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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 11

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-34

1 Corinthians 11:2 . Keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. The apostle mentions these twice to the Thessalonians, and nearly in the same words. 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6. What were they? General outlines of order in worship, and rules of private conduct for the members of the churches, whether male or female, married or single. How could the infant church subsist without traditions, that they might walk by the same rule, and mind the same things. These ordinances seem implied in the next words.

1 Corinthians 11:3 . The head of every man is Christ. He rose to be Lord both of the living and the dead. Romans 14:9. The head of the woman is the man: thy desire shall be to thy husband. Genesis 3:16. And the head of Christ is God, as the Father, and fountain of deity. John 5:19-20. Christ in his humiliation was the servant of rulers, Isaiah 49:7; and was made a little lower than the angels. Psalms 8:6. Hebrews 2:7; Hebrews 2:9. But now he has no head, except the Father, who is in himself all in all.

1 Corinthians 11:4 . Every man praying or prophesying, which latter word designates here unfolding the mysteries of Christ, who as head of the family, and prince on the throne, wears the crown. Now as the veil is a mark of subjection; and as the man openly preaching in the church acts as the ambassador of Christ, he would dishonour Christ to preach so covered as to hide his countenance, which shines with the image of Christ. The idea being here that of subjection, Paul, I think, who himself had a bald head, as stated in the introduction to the Acts, would not reprehend our Puritan and Lutheran divines for the velvet cap; neither did he mean to reprehend the women, “who helped him in the Lord.” On the subject of decency in worship, St. Paul would not have christian women in their devotion to resemble the pythoness, who with dishevelled hair, and roaring voice, invoked three hundred gods.

Et crines effusa sacerdos Tercentum tonat ore Deos. ÆNEID. 4:509.

1 Corinthians 11:7 . A man indeed ought not to cover his head, in public worship, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God, and equally so is the woman, comprehended in the man. It is not doubted but there was a high degree of moral glory about the countenance of Adam in a state of pristine felicity, and the remains of the law are still written on the heart. In regenerate men especially the countenance is sometimes illuminated like Stephen’s, which shone with angelic brightness. The priest of Asia says, that St. Paul sometimes looked like a man, and sometimes like an angel.

The contrary is the case with bad men. The habitual wickedness of their heart alters their aspect, and gives to their countenance the impressions of vice. Coceijus cites Martial the poet as saying that they have devouring eyes, to which we add, “eyes full of adultery,” a brow of brass, a sneering insolence, and mockery at the faults of another. Sometimes their eyes are full of fire, their tongue emitting venom, and all their features pale with anger. Ah, what need of a new heart, and a right spirit. The old man must be crucified.

1 Corinthians 11:9 . The woman was created for the man, as a help meet, to bear him children, to keep his heart, and his house, that both might be as one soul in two bodies.

1 Corinthians 11:10 . The woman ought to have power on her head. The scope of this argument regards worship, and a hallowed approach to the table of the Lord. The women of the east, to the present time, wear veils; but poor women are often seen on the road, and at work without them. In England we follow the Parisian fashions: the women as well as the men show an open face, yet all must bow in prayer, and be engaged with God alone.

Because of the angels, who according to Tertullian, attend the congregations, and mark the devotion of the people. Angelo adhuc orationis adstante, the angel of prayer standing by. Chrysostom, on the priesthood, has a similar thought, that ministers should be attentive to their sermons. He says, “I had a vision. I saw the communion rails crowded with angels, listening to the sermon.” In another place he asks, “Knowest thou not that thou standest with the angels? These ministering spirits assembled with the Lord in the temple, and led the worship in his celestial courts. They raised and hallowed the devotion of Jacob, when the God of his lathers met him at Bethel. Bless the Lord, ye his angels that excel in strength, that do his commandments.” Psalms 103:20; Psalms 103:20.

Another opinion, followed by some ancient commentators is, that the word angels in this place regards the prophets, elders, and ministers present in the church, “because the lips of the priest keep knowledge, and because they cry on the walls of Jerusalem.”

1 Corinthians 11:13-16 . Is it comely that a woman pray uncovered. The argument here is built on national customs, but customs which St. Paul regarded as important, corresponding with the natural law of modesty, and the peace of the church. The hair of Absalom was his pride, and caused his death. The long hair of the Argives is a frequent epithet of Homer, and the short-haired Englishman is a pleasantry with Zimmerman. Though the length of the hair be in itself a small object, yet it is not small when the peace and unity of the church is disturbed, as appears from 1 Corinthians 11:19 to have been the case at Corinth, and which produced disorders that invoked divine correction.

1 Corinthians 11:19 . There must also be heresies among you, that those brethren may be approved who love the peace of the church more than parties and contention; while the heretic follows his own opinion to mischiefs unutterable. See the note on Acts 24:14.

1 Corinthians 11:23 . I received of the Lord that which also [even] I delivered unto you. The Lord did not make Paul an apostle to the gentiles without specially appearing to him, and giving him a full revelation of the gospel, in which the order of the holy sacrament was included. If so, no christian should neglect it. If so, it is far too assuming in the Friends to supersede it. Galatians 1:12.

1 Corinthians 11:27 . Whosoever shall eat this bread, and [or] drink this cup unworthily, shall be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. The dispute whether and, or the disjunctive or be the true reading, our best critics think to be of no moment, because in this place the disjunctive is equivalent to a conjunction. It never can be construed into a justification of the Catholics in refusing the cup to the laity, by merely dipping the wafer into the wine. Drinking of the cup is here four times distinctly named; and dipping is not drinking.

1 Corinthians 11:28 . Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat. Have I right ideas of the love of God, and of Christ who gave himself as an atoning sacrifice, that our sinful nature might be made clean, by the offering up of his body on the cross. Have I renounced all my sins, and with all the fruits of repentance in my power? Can I eat that bread in charity with every member attendant there? Am I weary of the yoke of sin? Then the invitation is mine: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; come without money and without price.

1 Corinthians 11:29 . He eateth and drinketh damnation to himself. Erasmus reads εις κριμα , to condemnation, which does not preclude future repentance. Then my afflicted brother, fear not; the rebuke of Paul to a few Gnostic drunkards at Corinth, does not apply to you. Live not without eating by faith of the true bread which came down from heaven to give you eternal life; for sacraments are the appointed means to obtain covenant blessings, and afore prepare you to drink new wine with the Saviour in the kingdom of God.


Corinth contained a great church composed of various nations, many of them but imperfectly washed from gentile pollutions, and still much perplexed with gentile customs. St. Paul having retrenched and regulated their intercourse with the idolaters, proceeds next to enforce decency of devotion. In a city where fornication was so rife, the veil worn by women was peculiarly essential. This veil was a sign of modesty. Genesis 24:65, Genesis 38:14. It was a gift to our mother Eve, in the fine tresses of her hair; and the want of a veil to this day in oriental nations is regarded as an indication of immodesty. Even the men among the jews veiled their heads in devotion, a custom which St. Paul disapproved, for man was made in the image of God. The woman was created also in the image of God, but yet of man’s substance, and placed second in the family; hence she is taught to reverence her husband. She ought to be veiled also because of the holy angels who crowd religious assemblies, to promote reverence and devotion in the audience: and Sarah was reproved for unseasonable laughter in presence of the angels who visited her tent.

The wise and holy apostle, desiring to withdraw the saints from pagan feasts, sets before them the hallowed ordinance of the Lord’s supper. This ordinance is distinguished in importance, being made the subject of a new revelation. He received the particulars of its order and administration from the Lord. It was a final pledge of the Saviour’s love before his passion, and equally so of his second coming. Let us improve such occasions with the sincerest piety: and may the idea that Christ has taken us from the dunghill, and allowed us to feast with the family of heaven, break our hearts with contrition.

Let our faith be lively; and not as certain licentious professors, who eat without distinguishing and discerning the Lord’s body. Oh what glories may we see in his person, what mysteries in his redemption, and what consolations in his love! While we participate of the sacred symbols, the water is all changed to wine. Our sins are all forgiven, and the joys of remission flow with eternal life in the heart. In this ordinance we renew our covenant with the Lord; yes, and with the blood of that covenant, as our Saviour said concerning the wine. Then every covenant blessing is ours. The heart of stone is removed, the law of kindness is restored, we are received into the household of faith, and sit in heavenly places. The bread that we break is the body of the Lord, and all the members of his church have a mutual participation of all the fruits of his passion and death. Hence the feast is celestial and divine. God cheers his people with earnests and foretastes of future felicity. We eat the bread of angels, and have fellowship with the family above. Hence tears are congealed to gems of joy, and prayer is changed to praise. Our blessed Lord introduced at this feast all kinds of consolatory discourse and talk of heaven, closing the sacred scene with a hymn. Hence this supper is called by the Greeks the holy eucharist, because of the praises and hymns of thanksgiving which are then offered to God. Thus heaven opens on earth in the souls of the faithful. The Redeemer conveys to his friends the seals and pledges of everlasting love; and they travel, like Elijah, in the strength of that meat to the mount of God.

Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. Sincerity is the grand requisite in the guests. The Master of the feast says, Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden. He came to bind up the broken hearted, and to comfort all that mourn; to give them the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Come, tender and contrite souls, and do not fear the condemnation threatened to apostates, who crucified the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame. These, and not you, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-corinthians-11.html. 1835.
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