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

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ. [In all matters that were indifferent Paul pleased others, rather than himself (1 Corinthians 9:19; 1 Cor 9:22; Romans 15:2). He did not needlessly trample upon the prejudices of any, whether in the church or out, and he counseled the Corinthians to follow his example in this, as he himself followed the example of Christ in thus showing mercy and consideration-- Romans 15:1-3]

Verse 2

[Paul has been discussing the disorderly conduct of individual Christians. He now proceeds to discuss more general disorders; i. e., those which took place in the meetings of the congregation, and in which the whole church participated. We may conceive him as answering the question, "Ought men to have their heads covered, or may women have their heads uncovered when they are prophesying in public?"] Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. [By "traditions" Paul means the precepts, ordinances and doctrines which he had taught them orally. The traditions of God, given through inspired men, are to be accepted without addition or alteration (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Revelation 22:18), but the traditions of men should be weighed carefully, and summarily rejected if they conflict with the teaching of God (Matthew 15:1-9). Since Paul has already censured the Corinthians for departing from his teaching, and since, in the next breath, he points out further departures on their part from his teaching, it is evident that what he says here is a quotation taken from a part of their letter where they were expressing their loyalty to him. Having thus quoted their words in which they committed themselves to his teaching, he points out what the teaching really was, that they may make good their boast by obeying it.]

Verse 3

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. [Paul settles the humblest difficulties by appealing to the loftiest principles: thus he makes the headship of Christ over man the basis, or principle, on which he decides that the man has headship over the woman, and as we shall see further on, he makes the headship of the man over the woman the principle by which he determines the question as to whether men should worship with uncovered, and women with covered heads; for the uncovered head was the symbol of royalty and dominion, and the covered head of subjection and submission. The order in which he states the several headships is peculiar. We would expect him to begin with God and descend by the regular steps, thus: God, Christ, man, woman. But the order is thus: Christ, man; man, woman; God, Christ. Subtle distinctions are to be made with caution, but it is not improbable that Paul’s order in this case is determined by the delicate nature of the subject which he handles. Dominion is fruitful of tyranny, and so it is well, before giving man dominion, to remind him that he also is a servant (Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 5:7). Again, the arrangement makes the headship of the man over the woman parallel to the headship of God over Christ, and suggests that there should be between husband and wife a unity of will and purpose similar to that which exists between the Father and the Son. The unquestioned, immediate and absolute submission and concurrence of the Son leave no room for the exercise of authority on the part of the Father, and the infinite and unsearchable wisdom, love, benevolence and good-will on the part of the Father take from the Son every occasion of unwillingness or even hesitation. All Christian husbands and wives should mutually remember this parallel. Jesus the Incarnate, the Son of man and the Son of God, is subject to the Father, by reason of his humanity and his mediatorial kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; John 14:28). As to the subjection of the Logos or the eternal Word to the Father we are not informed--comp. Philippians 2:6]

Verse 4

Every man praying or prophesying [speaking by divine inspiration], having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.

Verse 5

But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head [Corinth was made up of Greeks, Romans and Jews, and all these three elements of her population were found in the church to which Paul wrote. The Jew and the Roman worshipped with covered, and the Greek with uncovered, head. Naturally a dispute would arise as to which custom was right. Moreover, as the women were beyond all doubt acquainted with the principle that there is neither male nor female in the spiritual realm (Gal 3:28), they seem to have added to the confusion by taking sides in the controversy, so that some of them asserted the right to worship with uncovered heads after the fashion of the Greeks. Now, in the East in Paul’s day, all women went into public assemblies with their heads veiled, and this peplum, or veil, was regarded as a badge of subordination, a sign that the woman was under the power of the man. Thus Chardin, the traveler, says that the women of Persia wear a veil in sign that they are "under subjection," a fact which Paul also asserts in this chapter. Now, the symbolic significance of a woman’s head-dress became the determining factor in this dispute. For a man to worship with a covered head was an act of effeminacy, a disgrace to his head, and for a woman to worship with uncovered head was likewise disgraceful, for it would at once be looked upon as a bold assertion of unwarranted independence, a sign that she had laid aside her modesty and removed from her sphere. From this passage it is plain that it was not intended that Christianity should needlessly vary from the national customs of the day. For Christians to introduce needless innovations would be to add to the misconceptions which already subjected them to persecution. One who follows Christ will find himself conspicuously different from the world, without practicing any tricks of singularity]; or it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven.

Verse 6

For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn [with shears] or shaven [with a razor], let her be veiled. [Paul does not command that unveiled women be shorn, but he demands it as a logical consistency, as a scornful reductio ad absurdum. For a woman to want only to lay aside her veil was an open repudiation of the authority of her husband, and such a repudiation lowered her to the level of the courtesan, who, according to Elsner, showed her shamelessness by her shorn head, and likewise to the level of the adulteress, whose penalty, according to Wetstein and Meyer, was to have her head shaved. Paul, therefore, demands that those who voluntarily seek a low level, consent to wear all the signs and badges of that level that they may be shamed into rising above it. Having thus deduced a law from human custom, Paul now shows that the same law rests upon divine and creative relationships.]

Verse 7

For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God [Man has no created superior (Genesis 1:27; Psalms 8:6), and, in addition to the glory which is his by reason of the nature of his creation, his estate has been further dignified and glorified by the incarnation of the Son of God (Hebrews 1:2-3), so that, because of his fellowship with Christ, he may stand unveiled in the presence of the Father. Therefore, by covering his head while at worship, man symbolically forfeits his right to share in the glory of Christ, and thus dishonors himself. We are no longer slaves, but sons (Galatians 4:7). "We Christians," says Tertullian, "pray with outspread hands, as harmless; with uncovered heads, as unashamed; without a prompter, as from the heart"]: but the woman is the glory of the man.

Verse 8

For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man:

Verse 9

for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man [Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:21-22]:

Verse 10

for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. [The argument here runs thus: The rule which I have given you rests upon symbolism--the symbol of the wife’s subjection. But this symbolism is correct, for, as man proceeded from God, being fashioned as a minor representative of God, so also woman proceeded from man as a minor representative of man, and her minor state is apparent from the fact that she was created for the man, and not the man for her. Hence, women ought not to do away with the veil while in places of worship, because of the symbolism; and they can not do away with the subordination which it symbolizes, because it rests on the unalterable facts of creation. To abandon this justifiable and well-established symbol of subordination would be a shock to the submissive and obedient spirit of the ministering angels (Isaiah 6:2) who, though unseen, are always present with you in your places of worship" (Matthew 18:10-31; Psalms 138:1; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Ecclesiastes 5:6). Here we find Paul not only vindicating the religious truths of the Old Testament, but authenticating its historical facts as well.]

Verse 11

Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord ["In the Lord" means by divine appointment.]

Verse 12

For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God. [Lest any man should be inflated with pride by the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7; fancying that there was some degree of proportion between the exaltation of God over man and of man over woman, Paul adds these words to show that men and women are mutually dependent, and hence nearly equals, but that God, as Creator, is exalted over all. The idea of proportion, therefore, is utterly misleading. To the two reasons already given for the covering of a woman’s and the uncovering of a man’s head, Paul adds two more.]

Verse 13

Judge ye in yourselves [he appealed to their own sense of propriety, as governed by the light of nature]: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?

Verse 14

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

Verse 15

But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. [Instinct should teach us that the head of a woman is more properly covered than that of a man, for nature grants it a greater abundance of hair. In Paul’s time the hair of a man, unless he was under some vow, such as that of the Nazarite, was uniformly cut short. Long hair in a man betokened base and lewd effeminacy, and we find those who wore it ridiculed by Juvenile. Since nature gives a woman more covering than man, her will should accord with nature, and vice versa. Masculine women and effeminate men are alike objectionable. Let each sex keep its place. And in point of attire it is still disgraceful for men and women to appear in public in each other’s garments.]

Verse 16

But if any man seemeth to be [a mild way of saying, "if any man is"] contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. [Knowing the argumentative spirit of the Greeks, and being conscious that it was likely that some would even yet want to dispute the matter, despite his three reasons to the contrary, Paul takes it entirely out of the realm of discussion into that of precedent. The settled and established practice of the church had from the beginning followed the course outlined by Paul, which showed that other apostles besides himself had either established it by rule, or endorsed it in practice. In this appeal for uniformity Paul makes it clear that all churches should strive to make their practices uniform, not variant. Paul is here discussing how men and women should be attired when they take a leading part in public worship. He will speak later as to whether or not women should take any such part at all in public worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:12). We to-day as males worship with uncovered heads in consequence of Paul’s instruction; but not for his reasons. It is now an expression of reverence, which the Jew then expressed by taking off his sandals. "Holland," says Stanley, "is the only exception. In Dutch congregations, men uncover their heads during the psalmody only." In Western countries a woman’s hat has never had any symbolism whatever. We see nothing in Paul’s argument which requires us to make it symbolic. The problem in Western assemblies is how best to persuade women to take their hats off, not how to prevail upon them to keep them on. The principle, however, still holds good that the woman is subordinate to the man, and should not make any unseemly, immodest, vaunting display of an independence which she does not possess.]

Verse 17

But in giving you this charge, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better but for the worse. [Their church services, which were intended for their development, had become so corrupted that they tended to retard and to dwarf their natural growth. Farrar makes the words "this charge" refer back to 1 Corinthians 11:2; but it is more natural and easy to refer them to what he is about to say.]

Verse 18

For first of all [Paul was not careful as to his divisions, and so his "secondly" is not clearly stated. Olshausen, Ewald, Winer and others think it begins at 1 Corinthians 11:20; and thus the apostle first censures the factions, and next the evils which resulted from the factions. But as Paul includes both these in one rebuke, it is best with Meyer, Fausset and others to find the "secondly" beginning at 1 Corinthians 12:1; so that the first rebuke is directed at their misbehavior at the love-feast and the Lord’s Supper, and the second at their misapplication of the gifts of the Spirit], when ye come together in the church [i. e., in the congregation, for as yet they doubtless had no building (Acts 18:7), and in this latter sense the word is nowhere used in the New Testament], I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it. [Evidently the divisions rebuked in chapter 1 manifested themselves in the meetings of the congregation, and the Pauline, Petrine and other parties gathered in separate groups. Paul was distressed to hear this, and Alford interprets him thus: "I am unwilling to believe all I hear, but some I can not help believing."]

Verse 19

For there must be [Luke 17:1; Matthew 18:7; Matthew 10:11] also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you. [A carnal spirit tends to division (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 1 John 2:18-19). The divisive spirit in the perverse and carnal, manifests, by contrast, the loving, united spirit of the obedient and spiritual, which is approved. "Approved" is the cognate opposite of "rejected" found at 1 Corinthians 9:27 . The word "division" used in the verse above was a milder term than "factions" found here. The former represented parties separated by present or at least very recent dissensions, while the latter described matured separations and looked toward permanent organizations. If the former might be regarded as a war of secession, the latter would describe that condition when the war was practically ended, and the two parties were almost ready to establish themselves as separate, independent and rival governments. But factions did not thus mature in Paul’s time, nor does Clement’s epistle written forty years later indicate that they had matured in his time. No doubt, this epistle of Paul’s had much to do in checking their development.]

Verse 20

When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper [The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual feast. It is a feast of love, union and communion in and with Christ, and so can not be eaten by those who have already glutted themselves with hatred, factiousness and partyism]:

Verse 21

for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. [This verse is an indictment with three counts. There could be no communion supper when: 1. The parties did not eat at the same time, but some before and some after; 2. when each ate his own meal, instead of sharing in "the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17); 3. when some ate to the full and others ate nothing at all, because there was nothing left. It is likely that "drunken" indicates a state of partial intoxication. Grotius gives "drunken" the milder, and Meyer the stronger, sense. But the context suggests that one had more than was good for him, and the other less, and there is a subtle innuendo in the crossing of the terms, so that overdrinking stands in contrast to undereating, for overdrinking is greater debauchery than overeating.]

Verse 22

What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not. [Litotes for "I condemn you." The context here makes it evident that the abuses of the Lord’s Supper grew out of the Agapæ, or love-feast, which was associated with it. As the feast of the Passover immediately preceded the Lord’s Supper, the early church thought it expedient to have a preliminary feast as a substitute for the Passover, thinking that the Lord’s Supper would thus have its proper setting. They called this preliminary meal a "love-feast" (Greek, Agapai-- Judges 1:12). This Agapæ was a club-feast; i. e., one to which each was supposed to contribute his share. But the factious spirit in Corinth caused the church to eat in different parties and at different times; and may have, to a large degree, caused each to selfishly eat what he himself had brought. Hence, the apostle declares that a feast so devoid of all spirit of communion might just as well be eaten at home. They were mere carnal feasts of appetite and not spiritual feasts of love. Paul does not, however, mention the Agapæ, for, being a human and not a sacred feast, it could not be profaned. But the things which were a disgrace to it became a profanation and a sin when they passed from it into the Lord’s Supper. Paul shows his sense of astonishment at the unseemly conduct of the Corinthians by "lively succession of questions." His meaning may be paraphrased thus: "Private feasts should be eaten in your own private houses, or is it possible that you do not own any houses? Surely you do. Why, then, do you meet in a public assembly to eat your private meal? Is it because you despise the church of God, and wish to show your contempt for it by exposing the poverty of those who have no houses (nor anything else), making a parade of your wealth before them, and publishing the fact that you do not consider them fit to eat with you?" The evil spirit of which Paul speaks still exists; but it shows itself to-day by a parade of dress, and not of victuals. From the perverted feast of the Corinthians Paul now turns to show the nature of the true Lord’s Supper.]

Verse 23

For I received of the Lord [Paul did not receive his knowledge as to the supper from the apostles or other witnesses (comp. Galatians 1:11-12). To be truly an apostle and witness (Acts 1:8), it was fitting that Paul should have his knowledge from the fountain source. For a comparison of Paul’s account with the three others, and comments upon 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; see "Fourfold Gospel," p. 657] that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed [the solemn and affecting circumstances under which the supper was instituted, as well as the sacred nature of the ordinance itself, should have impressed upon the Corinthians how unbecoming it was to celebrate the memorial of it in a spirit of pride, revelry and disorder] took bread;

Verse 24

and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. [The Greek word for giving thanks is eucharistia, and from it many call the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist. But the "Lord’s supper" and the "Lord’s table" (1 Corinthians 10:21) and the "communion" (1 Corinthians 10:16) are three Bible terms for it. Many ancient authorities read: "This is my body, which is broken for you" etc. Some regard this as a contradiction of John’s assertion that no bone of him was broken (John 19:36). But the word differs from that used by John, which may be properly translated "crushed." "Broken" is involved in the phrase "he brake it," used here, and in the three other accounts of the supper, and hence they err who use the unbroken wafer.]

Verse 25

In like manner also the cup, after supper [Paul here inserts the entering wedge of reform. The Lord’s Supper came after the Passover, and was no part of it; hence it was no part of the Agapæ which was substituted for the Passover. As therefore the Agapæ was fruitful of disorder, would it not be well to separate it from the communion? By the end of the first century it was so separated, and at last it was formally prohibited by the Council of Carthage. See Poole’s synopsis on Matthew 26:26], saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. [Diatheke may be translated "testament" (Hebrews 9:16), or "covenant." The latter is the meaning here, for wills or testaments were not sealed with blood, as were covenants. The cup is the symbol of Christ’s blood, which ratified the gospel covenant.]

Verse 26

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim [inwardly and outwardly] the Lord’s death till he come. [Thus the supper looks forward, as well as backward. The constant observance of this feast through the centuries is one of the strongest of the external evidences of the truth of gospel history. By a chain of weekly links it will connect the first and second comings of our Lord; after which there will be no further need of symbols.]

Verse 27

Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. [It is possible to partake of either emblem unworthily, and so be guilty as to both (James 2:10). Though we may be unworthy, we may still eat worthily, i. e., in a prayerful, reverent, repentant spirit; but if we eat unworthily, we profane not only the symbols, but the Lord who is symbolized--comp. Hebrews 10:29]

Verse 28

But let a man prove [test] himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. [A Christian confronting the communion should first test his sincerity (2 Corinthians 13:5), his state of heart (Matthew 5:22-24), etc., to see if he can eat in a submissive spirit, and in loving remembrance of his Lord.]

Verse 29

For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body. [The Corinthians were eating the supper in a spirit of levity, as though it were common food; not keeping in mind what it memorialized.]

Verse 30

For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep. ["Not a few" indicates a larger number than the preceding "many." It is generally accepted that Paul here refers to physical weakness, ill health and death, and that he asserts that these things came upon the Corinthians as a "judgment" for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (comp. John 5:14). But the word "sleep" indicates peaceful repose, rather than the violence of the death penalty; and suggests that the Corinthians were condemned to be spiritually unhealthy and sleepy--comp. Matthew 13:12-15]

Verse 31

But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged.

Verse 32

But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. [If we examined and corrected ourselves, we would escape the correction of God; but, as it is, his judgments are visited upon us, so that we may not finally be condemned with the world (Psalms 94:12; Hebrews 12:5-12). Verses 1 Corinthians 11:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:31 call for self-judgment, but there is no Biblical authority for the practice of those who take it upon themselves to judge as to the fitness of other professing Christians to commune (comp. Romans 14:4). Moreover, these verses, in giving the true rule of practice, expose the departure of the Romish Church, which calls for no self-examination, but makes confession and priestly absolution the preparation for communion.]

Verse 33

Wherefore [if you wish to remedy matters], my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait one for another.

Verse 34

If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment. [By waiting they would eat together, and eat of the same symbolic bread; by eating at home, and taking the edge off their appetites, they would not devour all, and so exclude others from the communion.] And the rest will I set in order whensoever I come. [The spiritual ill health of the church had delayed his coming, but when he arrived he would adjust any lesser irregularities which might need attention.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/1-corinthians-11.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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