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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 11

 

 

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Verse 1

'Be you imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.'

Paul is conscious that he has been laying great stress on his own example, so now he sets the record straight. They are to be imitators of him because he is an imitator of Christ. What he has been saying is precisely what Christ would recommend and do, and indeed did do (see especially Philippians 2:4-11). By this he brings them back again to 'Christ and Him the crucified One'. That is where it all began.

There may be a feeling in societies where food offered to idols is not a problem that much of what has been said in these chapters is not relevant to them. But if so they should quickly be disabused. For the basic lesson that lies behind Paul's words is of the importance of living our lives in such a way as not to cause unnecessary offence, in living them so as to be able to present the best possible case for the Gospel, and in order to prevent other Christians being harmed by our over liberality, in avoiding all contact with the occult and with superstition. He is not out to please men so that he will be hailed as a wonderful fellow, but so that he might remove any unnecessary obstacle in their coming to Christ.

So it is right that we have concern for a nation's customs, and where it will help in the spreading of the Gospel, be willing to conform to those customs. But once we face something in those customs which is offensive to the Gospel, or which suggests participation in other gods or other supernatural elements, or which causes doubts among fellow-Christians, or hinders our evangelism, then we must abstain from them for the sake of both ourselves and others.


Verse 2

'Now I praise you that you remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.'

Paul opens this section by giving them praise for remembering so much of what he has taught them and for holding fast the ideas that he had delivered to them. To that extent they held firmly to the truth, and to that extent he is satisfied, and he wants them to know it before he mentions something about which he is not so content. He wants to be conciliatory.

Paul was a wise man. He knew that to constantly belabour men and women without some praise could only lead to bitterness. It was necessary that they recognise that he saw the good in them as well as the bad. And so for a moment he relaxes and commends them. For not all were caught up in the things that he has condemned.


Verses 2-16

The Status of Men and Women in Ministry When Prophesying and Praying Is To Be Expressed In The Covering or Uncovering of the Head (11:2-16).

This question is of great importance in the church, because it deals with the matter of authority, and especially authority in ministry. It is usually misrepresented as though it somehow demeaned women. In fact it exalts women. But in spite of all attempts to modernise it and all attempts to tone down its message, its message does remain inviolable, once correctly interpreted.

It certainly declares that there is in the present order of things a grading in authority from God to Christ, from Christ to man and from man to woman. Yet this is not in order to degrade the woman, but in order to raise her to her rightful place as man's helpmeet in the things of the Spirit as well as in the things of the flesh. Woman is seen as not to be excluded from the whole. Just as God being the head of Christ does not demean Christ, it means that He operates at a lower level as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation, neither is it demeaning to a woman that man is her head. (It may, of course be unpalatable because she lacks Christ’s humility).

Fallen men and women tend to look on this question of a covering wrongly. Fallen man tends to look on it as a sign that women are inferior and should be submissive, while they should rather see it as an indication of the important position which God has given to women in Christ. (They should also look on it as a reminder that each man should treat his wife as Christ treats the church (Ephesians 5:24-33) because of how important she is. As under his authority he should care for her and nurture her). Fallen women see it as an imposition. They see it as humiliating. They dare not tell God to move over, so they tell man to move over. They have lost the heart of a servant which is at the very centre of Christian behaviour. Rather than gladly pick up the towel which Christ offers them they insist that Christ should still carry it and use it. They do not want to be thought of as towel-bearers. But a woman should rather see the covering required here as a vizier’s crown, declaring her important status before God, next only to the man. It is the proclamation of her important status to angels and to the world.

Rather, however, than do this modern woman spends much of her time arguing about her own status over against man and so overlooks Christ’s command to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35; Mark 10:34). In the Upper Room there was only One who was fitted to take the basin and wash the feet of the guests at the Last Supper for only He was qualified by not being concerned about His own status. The remainder were too big and important to serve. But Jesus said, ‘I am among you as He Who serves’. He alone was therefore fit to serve. The woman who cavils at covering her head is simply demonstrating her total unfitness for the service of Christ.

Women in the modern day may be intensely annoyed at the suggestion that they should cover their heads when praying or prophesying in church (and cover them properly, not just with an eye catching hat). But apart from what has been said above they should bear two things in mind. Firstly that the idea is God appointed, and that while it might be annoying, perhaps we should recognise that God knows that it will finally be for the good of all. And secondly, that they should approach the question as a test of their true love for God. Love does not push itself forward, and puff itself up (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Rather it submits to what God knows to be best. It is just possible that He knows more than we do, and that is that while there are exceptions to be accommodated (like Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Huldah the prophetess, who would both keep themselves covered) the overall authority of man is for the best, as long as man uses it in love and submission to God.

Paul actually had a high view of the woman's position, contrary to that held by many in his day. He recognised that at creation God had created the woman to share with man in the exercising of man’s God-given authority on earth. He could declare us all one in Christ Jesus. And yet he recognised at the same time that womankind as a whole functions best when observing man's God-given headship.

His message here had also especial importance for women in those days because the whole of society would judge them in terms of it. One question that could always arise for women was, were they in danger of depicting themselves as loose or rebellious women, especially in lascivious Corinth, because of how they behaved when praying and prophesying? Would they thereby bring discredit on the name of Christ? He wanted the proper order of things to be maintained, and the world to see that it was so.

But that it goes further than that comes out in 1 Timothy 2:12. There the final authority, especially in authoriatative teaching, was to be with the man. This probably has to do with the fact that on the whole men are more steadily rational than women, while women are more intuitive. (Of course there are exceptions to be accommodated or be warned about). And also to do with the fact that the revelation of God when used authoritatively needs dealing with rationally rather than intuitively. Intuition goes beyond what is there and can therefore in such matters lead astray. It is indeed interesting to note what part women have played since then in the spreading the kind of heresy that goes beyond the rational.

However, it would be unreasonable not to recognise also that women on the missionfield have played a huge part in the spreading of the true Gospel, and the building up of the body of Christ, and the training of men to serve the churches. And yet to their credit for the most part, even while they were thrust into having authority, they recognised the importance of the principles outlined above. They believed God's word and lived in accordance with it. They acknowledged the headship of man because had God declared it.

It should perhaps be noted that there is no mention in the passage of being 'in the church'. That comes later. Thus this is not necessarily dealing primarily with the question of how a woman should dress in church. It is dealing with the question of how she should dress when ministering by praying and prophesying. For a woman to pray and prophesy (and thus lead worship), wherever it took place, without wearing a head covering, was to usurp man's authority as king and priest before God, and this was not to be allowed. On the other hand the covering was not to be seen as demeaning, for the same covering indicated the authority that she did have in these things as man's appointed helpmeet (1 Corinthians 11:10).

(The question is not so much one of wearing something on the head, as of what it indicated to all. The point is that she should give an indication that she is man's helpmeet, not his lord, nor his slave. She should not express total independence and lack of submission to man's authority under God. The church has no place for unisex, or power-mad women's movements which seek to displace men, but it does have a place for woman's participation in the work of God, under Christ and under man. The world today will disagree. But then the world disagrees with Christ on many things. And in so far as the church does so it has ceased to be the church, for the church is united with Christ and cannot disagree with Him and remain the church).

The lack of reference to being in church does not necessarily deny that much praying and prophesying would take place within the church as a whole. But it recognises that often it would also take place in women's gatherings (Titus 2:3-4, compare Acts 16:13 where it was in the open air), or in the open air, or even in private worship in people's homes. The point we are making is that it is not a woman's presence in the church that is primarily in Paul's mind in this section, but that of her praying and prophesying, and that wherever it was engaged in.

In chapter 14 we will learn of the great emphasis that Paul lays on prophesying for the edification of God's people. Such ministry was especially important when there was no New Testament. It was a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28-29) through which the church could be ministered to (1 Corinthians 14:31), although it had to be accompanied by safeguards to ensure its soundness (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 14:29). Here we learn that women prophesied as well as men, and thus it was necessary for the place of women in such ministry to be both safeguarded and controlled.

It may be that one problem for us as we consider the particular passage is that we are still not really aware of what the dress and other customs of the ancient world were. We have clues here and there, but in the end we have to interpret this passage without being exactly certain what the background of some of the illustrations is. Some commentaries give various examples, and come to differing conclusions, but none of the customs described can be said to be universally applicable. Our knowledge is limited. Thus we have to approach the matter cautiously. However, we need to recognise that possibly that is irrelevant and that Paul is expressing an eternal principle.

Another problem we have, of course, is that we tend to look at things from a modern viewpoint and we thus tend to make Paul say what we think he should have said.


Verses 2-40

Approach to Worship (11:2-14:40).

We now move on to a section which deals with the Christian approach to worship in the light of the particular problems of the Corinthian church. Chapter 11 covers the question of the covering or uncovering of the head in praying and prophesying, and its significance, followed by problems arising at the Christian love feasts and the Lord's Table, including the divisions caused by those problems. Note that it is all about problems arising from un-Christian behaviour and attitudes. Chapters 12-14 then go on to deal with the question of the church as one body with Christ, and with that of spiritual gifts for the edifying of that one body, and warns again against un-Christian behaviour and attitudes by misuse of the gifts. And embedded within the whole is the great chapter on Christian love (chapter 13) which should underlie all worship. All worship is to be founded on love, and what we do in worship should have in mind how it will affect others. Worship is never to be selfish. It is to be participating together for the good of all.


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.'

But he is dissatisfied about their attitude towards authority, and especially of that of the women towards the men who are over the church, and possibly at their actual behaviour when prophesying. They were failing to recognise God's order of things revealed at creation. He thus lays down regulations concerning women being 'covered'. As he will make clear this is not just a matter of religious custom. Their very failure is symptomatic of what is wrong in the Corinthian church, the lack of recognition of general authority.

He first establishes the doctrinal position. The Christ is the head of every man, the man is the head of the woman, and the head of Christ is God. The last phrase establishes the basis of what we are talking about. In creation there is a defined order. Over all is the triune God. 'The Christ' came from God, emptying Himself of His Godhood and of His equality within the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7), and fulfilling the task of redemption allocated to Him as true Man. He made a voluntary submission, and gladly took a subsidiary role. Becoming Man it was as Man that He acknowledged God as His Head, both as 'over Him' and as the source from which He came, so that having accomplished His divine mission He might then return to God and submit all things to Him (1 Corinthians 15:24). Thus Christ voluntarily placed Himself in a position of submission. He Who was the Creator of the world, chose to place Himself in submission to the Godhead, so that the Godhead was the 'Head' of Christ in this regard. That is, God is the One Who is set over Christ in His manhood and mission, and Who is the source from which He came. And Christ deliberately humbled Himself to that end, acknowledging a head over Him in His role.

The mention of this relationship is important both in itself and because it defines the other relationships. Christ was in voluntary and joyous submission to God. He sought only to do what pleased Him. There was no thought of constraint or of being taken advantage of. God did not lord it over Christ. Christ did not resent His position in any way. He had voluntarily become man and a servant and He gladly walked the way of submission that He had chosen. It was submission to love, and in love, not to tyranny.

Then, secondly, Christ is the Head of every man. As appointed by God to His task He is in authority over all men as the King over the Kingly Rule of God, and is the source of their life. All therefore are in submission to Him, and owe all to Him. He is both their ruler and the source of their life, their Head, and as such is the One to whom they should respond in obedience. But He expressed that headship in washing their feet. His whole concern in every moment of His life was for the good of those who were in submission to Him. While He could simply have demanded all, He gave all.

Then, thirdly, we have man as the image of God over creation, and therefore over woman who was created for his benefit, assistance and blessing. Man is head of womankind and lord of creation. His wife should be in responsive submission to him as his 'right hand woman', as Christ was to God, set apart as his main helpmeet in his task, living in voluntary submission following the example of Christ. This is confirmed by the fact that at creation man was the source of her being and had authority over her. She came from his side and is his helpmeet and his first minister, to whom he looks for assistance in fulfilling his own responsibilities before God. The whole line downwards demonstrates that this was not in order to make him a tyrannical despot, for God is not the tyrannical despot of Christ, and Christ is not the tyrannical despot of man. So, in the same way, man is not to be the tyrannical despot of the woman. She contains his life. She produces life, producing both man and woman from her body. The relationship is to be one of love, consideration, co-operation and thoughtfulness. The man is to be concerned for the woman and seeking her highest good. Nevertheless respectful submission remains at the differing levels and was to be seen in the case of man and woman as established at creation.

The use of 'head' (kephale) to depict both lordship and life source was necessary in order to incorporate both ideas. No other word would have achieved the same. Compare Colossians 1:18.

So here we have depicted God’s plan of salvation in its fullness beginning with God Who produced His deputy, the God-man Christ, the great Mediator, Who produced His deputy man and gave man his deputy, woman. These are over all creation and the grades of descent are clear.


Verses 4-6

'Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered (literally 'having a hanging down from the head'), dishonours his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonours her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn. But if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.'

This order of things, and the importance and status of the man and the woman in the scheme of things is now emphasised by reference to head coverings. The head covering now described is in some way symbolic of headship and authority, and this is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 11:7 where the lack of covering of the man relates to the fact that he stands on earth in the place of God. He is made in God's image, with no superior on earth. He has full authority. And this is expressed when he prophesies and prays in his uncovered head. When acting in Christ’s Name the man removes his head covering in order to declare to mankind, and to angels, and even to Satan, that he is free and with full authority over all God’s creation. He is submissive to none but his Head, to Christ.

It is arguable whether 'dishonours his head' refers to his own head or to Christ as his Head. But the principle behind it is the same. Any covering to his head when praying and prophesying publicly brings dishonour, because it suggest that he is inferior to what he is. Primarily it dishonours Christ because he is acting as Christ's representative in what he is doing, and if he was covered he would be demeaning Christ's authority and diminishing it in the eyes of men, secondarily it dishonours his own head because it depicts him as less than he is. As man he may be humbled in the scheme of things, under the authority of others, both men and women. But when among God's people and acting in Christ’s Name he is still lord of creation.

It is possible that in Paul's day it was recognised that a servant or slave had often to have his head covered before his master, depicting his inferior position, although there is no definite evidence for this. This would certainly explain why when they were praying and prophesying, and thus depicting their total freedom within creation, all men were to have their heads uncovered. It might also be seen as demonstrating to the church that in the church all men were equal and free, so that, while they were in the church there was neither slave nor free (Galatians 3:28). It would thus be a sign to all that before God they were lords of creation and free. They had no authority over them but Him. If that were the case then to cover his head when praying and prophesying, that is when acting very much as God's representative and lord of creation, would be to dishonour both his head as that of a free man before God (which statement would seem to confirm that in some way a head covering for a man was seen as degrading) and his headship as allocated to him by God. Once he went outside he might have to cover himself, he might have to be a slave, but while praying and prophesying, whether in the church, or indeed anywhere, he should depict himself as a free man.

But even if the custom suggested did not exist the tenor of the verse together with 1 Corinthians 11:7 suggests that the conclusion remains the same. 'Covering' the head was in some way seen as a denial of man's lordship over creation. It was therefore not to be considered when praying or prophesying, in which activities he was acting on God's behalf towards man, and man's behalf towards God, as God's free instrument in his new sphere set apart from the world within the Kingly Rule of God.

The Christian woman on the other hand wore the covering as a sign of proclamation that the man was the head, and she was his helpmeet. She was stressing that she did not herself make a claim to headship. She was the helper. And, says Paul if she did not wear the head covering when praying and prophesying she may just as well be shaved, something which would be seen as bringing grave dishonour on a woman, denoting her unfaithfulness or unworthiness. For it would declare her rebellion against her position in creation as established by God, and would also denote her sexual casualness (for all chaste women covered themselves in public). Outside the church women were men’s property, and their sexual revelation of themselves was tightly controlled, in such a way that if they did not follow the regulations they were revealed as loose women. Their covering denoted inferiority. But inside the church women were men’s helpmeets and their covering therefore declared their honoured position, acting alongside Christian man to bring the world to Christ.

It may well be that all this was partly based on the fact that all chaste women kept themselves modestly covered when they went out in public, so that what Paul is arguing is that they should behave in the same way in the church into which at any time strangers might come. But we must not see this as taking away from the main point of the covering which was to emphasise the woman's role as helpmeet when praying and prophesying rather than as principal. And this was to apply whether prophesying outside the church or in.

Today the full impact of this may not come over to us. But those who gathered in the early church came from many backgrounds and situations. Many of them were slaves. But once they met in the church they were for that period of time all free. If they were males their heads were uncovered. They left their slavery outside. Each was raised to his status of lord of creation. Each was as God meant him to be, and as he would one day be in heaven. Each was Adam restored to his full dignity. The woman on the other hand was his helpmeet. Each was an Eve restored to her full dignity as helpmeet to God’s earthly representative. And her covering was the badge that declared her dignity. Not for her to be treated as second class or as a chattel. As they met in church the God of creation was there, His Christ was there as mediator between God and man, man was there with bard head as His appointed ruler of creation and mediator on behalf of the world, and woman was there covered as man’s appointed companion and personal assistant, and assistant in his mediation.

We note here that praying and prophesying, the two basic elements of the Christian’s responsibility, activity towards God and activity towards man, are seen as man's main function. In them he acts on behalf of God before creation, and in them he acts on behalf of creation towards God. He is both king and priest. Some consider that the praying and prophesying of the women may well have been in all-women assemblies or gatherings (because they are to keep silence in churches - 1 Corinthians 14:34), although others interpret it differently. We will consider this more on 1 Corinthians 14:34. But when praying and prophesying they act in an important, even though subordinate position to men. They too act towards God and towards men. Even in women's meetings they act as men's representatives towards women, and the head covering makes this clear. It is man who is God's prime representative. The same would apply if they prayed and prophesied in the general assembly.

There is nowhere a suggestion that this is limited to married women. Woman’s role in creation is not dependent on marriage. Of course, many a woman on reading these words will be bristling. Anger will have risen up. For she has not yet learned the secret of godliness, that we are all here to serve. When Jesus took the towel at the Last Supper in order to wash His disciples’ feet it was not the gesture of a proud man trying to make Himself look humble, it was the gesture of One Who delighted in being able to serve those whom He loved. He did not take a golden bowl while a crowd looked on and applauded. He demonstrated to His disciples what His future was going to be, a constant washing of men from sin, and of His disciples from the guilt of any failure. A constant stooping to help His own. That is what His superiority made Him, One Who could stoop. When a woman wears her covering in church she indicates that she wants to be like her Master, not exalting herself but taking the lower place, revealing herself as a joyous but humble servant, one who can stoop in His service.

There may also be in this a deliberate attempt to control the excesses of certain types of women prophetesses. It was so easy for freedom to become excess when people were aroused into an excited state, leading on to extravagant gestures in ecstasy, often without regard to chaste clothing, gestures that were undesirable. By wearing a covering, and acknowledging authority they would hopefully be prevented from doing the opposite with themselves and their clothing while in ecstasy. It would be a constant reminder of their need to be under the control both of the church eldership and of themselves. This would help to explain the extreme illustration that he gives. To remove the covering was to depict them as wayward. But again this must not take away from the essential idea of showing respectful submission. This did not just apply to women. It is not only women who have to ‘submit’. Men in fact in various ways also have to show respectful submission to each other, to other men as well as to God. ‘Submit yourself one to another in the fear of God’ (Ephesians 5:21), that was God’s cry to Christian man, and this meant each submitting to the other. The Christian life is a life of submission because the Christian follows a Master Who accomplished His purpose through submission.


Verse 7

'For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man.'

In the end Paul brings it all back to theology. The previous idea is amplified. The man ought to wear no head covering in his approach to God, and to man on God’s behalf, because of what he is, God's image, God's glory on earth, established as such at creation. He is God's prime priest and king. The thought may be that he shares to some extent in the glory of God through his being the Temple of God, and indwelt by His Spirit, and that he also shares it because of the status the God gave him when He first created man. Thus to cover the head would be to mar that image and hide that glory, it would be to veil it, (as Moses did - Exodus 34:29-35) while God does not want His glory veiled. But it is all in order to bring glory to God, not to bring glory to the man. Paradoxically once a man begins to glory in himself, he loses his glory, for God withdraws from him. How can he glory in himself when in the presence of his Lord, and when representing the Lord? On the other hand the woman is the glory of the man, and shares the glory of the man. Her position is important but secondary, and has come to her through him. So while she shares his glory, and thus shares his privileged position, she must not try to take his place, she must not, by herself being uncovered, take away from before the world the fact that he has been appointed as lord of creation with the right to act in Christ’s Name. Her glory is in a sense a borrowed one, she is his helpmeet, but nevertheless it is a glory given to her by God. But to reveal her hair, which is her glory (1 Corinthians 11:15), would be to take glory to herself, when she should in church be revealing herself as helpmeet, so pointing to man in his position as lord of creation.

We must of course recognise that the terms are all used in a Christian sense. There is no idea here of people seeking glory for themselves. The situation is indeed the very opposite. Each is intent on bringing glory to the other. The man is bringing glory to God. The woman is bringing glory to the man in the eyes of all and thus to God. (Does someone ask, who is bringing glory to the woman? The answer is, she is most of all, by demonstrating that she is God’s true servant, and God and man are as she shares the glory given to the man).

'The image and glory of God.' This might be seen as being a synonym of 'image and -- likeness' of God (Genesis 1:26) although there the emphasis, as here, is on image. The 'image' represents what God is like. Something of God is revealed to the world by man as he prophesies. He should not therefore be shown as in submission and under another authority. He is acting as God's representative. And God's authority is supreme, even as revealed by His appointed representative. But 'the glory' often has another meaning.

'The glory.' In the Old Testament the 'glory' of a man or king or nation was revealed in possessions, and even in armies. They were his/their glory (Genesis 31:1; Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 10:16 contrast Isaiah 17:3-4 where the glory was at its lowest). It was their glory because it demonstrated what they were, what they possessed and ruled over and controlled, and what they could achieve. So man sums up both what God is and, as lord over creation, what He represents. Men are thus supremely God's 'glory', the main aspect of God's possessions, God's army on earth, what counts most in God’s scheme of things. Man is the main instrument for the carrying out of His purposes. He is God's wealth. Men are God's battalions. This had especially become true in the coming of Jesus Christ, and in the establishment of God's new people led by the Apostles. Thus for such a man to be covered as he acts in the name of Christ would be to degrade God, and such a covering would indicate that the man too is degraded. In normal life he may be covered, but when acting in Christ’s Name he must never be covered.

Even the lowest slave in his master’s house church, acknowledging by his clothing his submission to his master, removes his head covering when he prays or prophesies. For then he acts, not in his master’s name, but In Christ’s Name as God’s free representative.

'But the woman is the glory of the man.' The woman on the other hand is man's helpmeet from the time of creation onwards. She is his, and as his equal helpmeet is his main protagonist, his main glory in his service of God, that which he treasures above all. She is more treasured than anything that he owns. For she is there as his fellow-servant to aid his service for God, specially created so as to serve with him. She too may pray and prophesy, but always as acting in man's name as his second-in-command. She is subject to man. As in 1 Timothy 2:12 the idea is that the overall control should be with the male and that she should play a subsidiary, even though important, role.

We may liken her to the vizier acting in the name of the king. Such a person did not feel demeaned. They proudly wore their insignia depicting their position and authority, acknowledging that they acted in the king’s name. And yet at the same time they acknowledged that they were in submission to him, for that was their role. So is it to be with the woman as she wears her covering. It is to be both an indication of her authority (1 Corinthians 11:10) as acting as his representative, and of her submission to man as she acts alongside him, because of his appointed status. She acknowledges that he is the lord of creation, and she is his vizier.

Thus he and she together in Christ are over all creation. That includes unsaved man, as well as unsaved woman. But this is only because she is within God’s plan. And this involves acknowledgement of saved man as her in Christ. Let her deny this and she sinks from her glorious position to the position of the lowest of all.


Verse 8-9

'For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man, for nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.'

This idea is then confirmed from what happened at creation. Who came first? The man came first and was first established in authority and as the source of humanity. The woman was then both createdforthe man as his helpmeet, and was createdfromthe man as his companion. This is only seen as degrading if the man misuses his position or the woman fails to respond correctly. Among God's people the true position was once more to prevail, the man in loving lordship, the woman in loving response.


Verse 10

'For this reason ought the woman to have authority on her head, because of the angels.'

And that is why the woman must when prophesying and being open to the Spirit and thus entering the spiritual realm, wear the covering that both denotes her authority to act in this way, and the fact that as she does so, she does so acting as man's helpmeet and is thus submissive to him in the exercise of her authority.

Other commentators would, however, rather see the covering as primarily the sign that she is under man's authority, seeing 'authority' as signifying 'sign of authority', but the usual use of the word in this form is to indicate the authority of the person being described, thus it here declares the woman’s authority.

'Having on authority' may thus be seen as signifying the wearing of the badge of her authority, with the recognition that she has that authority as man's appointed helpmeet, or as an indication that she is under authority, a sign of the fact that she is under the authority of man. Either way, and the one really assumes the other, this having authority on her head is 'because of the angels'. She is indicating to them her right to pray and prophesy because she is man’s helpmeet, and that as his helpmeet she shares that authority.

So this may signify that the covering is to be seen as indicating to the angels that she is under the authority of the man as his helpmeet as she prays and prophesies, or that she receives her authority from her relationship with man in order to be able to do so. Either way it is not an indication of a downgrading of the woman, but of a lifting up of the woman in the eyes of the angels to her exalted position prior to the fall, a restoring of her privileges in Christ. This is why she can pray and prophesy as man's helpmeet. She is no longer fallen Eve, but Eve restored in her glory.

It is possible that it is also to be seen as indicating to the angels that as she actively enters the spiritual realm she is not open to angels or evil spirits for possession, that she as it were enters the spiritual realm with authority as under man's authority as God's spokesman, because she shares man's unique position. Thus she is not to be interfered with. It will be her protection. This with special reference to the angels who once coveted fallen women for themselves and possessed them (Genesis 6:1-2). It may suggest that the head covering is a reminder to any similarly minded angels that this woman belongs to man, is in submission through him to Christ as the Head, and is thus not available to be possessed, and that she enters the spiritual realm, not seeking to be possessed, but because she shares with man his authority over creation, with a right to minister as his representative on God's behalf. (Many women in other religions did very much open themselves to possession).

So her entry into that realm is not to be seen as an indication to the angels and spirits that she is available for possession and opening herself for possession, but rather, as indicated by her covering, that she comes as man's helpmeet and under the authority of him whose Head is Christ.

Thus the principle is laid down that 'to have authority on her head' is seen as emphasising both to men and to angels that she comes to serve God in praying and prophesying as man's representative in his function as God's spokesman. It indicates that she recognises that she is not a 'free spirit' but under respectful submission to man as God's prime representative. It is a sign of her own authority, but as a subsidiary authority, an authority given to her as man's helpmeet. It is because she is a junior partner to the man in God's enterprise that she is in this privileged position. Her covering is thus to be a reminder to the angelic realm, who were consulted at the time of the creation of both man and woman (Genesis 1:26-27), of God's purpose in creation, which she is now seeking to fulfil, of bringing all in subjection to Him. It is a badge of honour.

Alternatively 'because of the angels' may have reference to the fact that we should ever be aware that the angels observe our conduct (Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10), especially when engaging in spiritual activity, and that the covering is to ensure that they will recognise the woman's renewed right to pray and prophesy in Christ as man's helpmeet, while at the same time ensuring angelic approval of the woman's sign of submission to authority, with the thought continually in mind that in the presence of angels women should remain discreetly dressed and submissive to man, while sharing his authority over creation.

This all indicates Paul's vivid awareness of the spiritual realm. The reason that he does not continually speak of angels is not because of lack of awareness but because he recognises that they have limited direct activity with regard to man. They watch, but they may not interfere. They remain within their bounds, unlike the angels who fell. When they act, they act invisibly without man's awareness under God’s command (Hebrews 1:14). They serve God, not man. Nor are they to be called on by man. Yet nevertheless they are there at all times, watching over the purposes of God. And their presence is acknowledged by the woman's covering.

Another less likely possibility is that there may be a reference to the seraphim in Isaiah 6 who covered themselves with their wings before the presence of God, who would thus approve of women showing the same idea of submission in worship and obedience, but this is less likely as the seraphim were not strictly angels, and the idea in their case is that their eyes were fixed on God and yet could not bear the sight because of His glory. It was not directly related to their ministry.

Overall then the woman's attitude is probably to be seen either as gaining and maintaining the approval of 'the good angels' as they minister to the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14) by testifying to her obedience to God, and/or as warning off the 'evil angels' and reminding them that she is under Another's authority as man's helpmeet, or as indicating to the angelic realm her important, but secondary, position in creation in accordance with God's purposes in creation, or possibly all of these, especially so where praying and prophesying results in magnified contact with the spiritual realm with its consequent dangers.


Verse 11-12

'Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.'

Paul then immediately goes on to stress that mutual respect between man and woman must be maintained. What he has said does not mean that the man can misuse his position or alternately that woman can rebel from hers. When both are 'in the Lord' they will observe His decree as expressed at creation. In the Lord both man and woman need each other, and honour each other, and respect each other. They were meant for each other. And in the Lord both are equally necessary. Indeed the woman is 'of the man', that is he was her original source, the status source from which she came, and 'the man is by the woman', that is every man is born of a woman, she has been the natural source from which he came, and therefore the source in a secondary sense.. Thus they are interdependent. In the end both men and women are of God. Statuswise he is the source of both. From His creative work came both, and in His service both play an important part, as is witnessed by the fact that both pray and prophesy in due order.


Verses 13-15

'Judge you in yourselves. Is it seemly that a woman pray to God unveiled? Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonour to him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her. For her hair is given her for a covering.'

Paul then seeks to confirm his argument with reference to the hair of both men and women. Even the length of their hair confirms that the one should be covered and the other not. Let them judge for themselves from nature. Does not nature naturally give a woman long hair? (Some Africans might disagree, but it is true in general). It is for them a natural covering and indication of their positions as helpmeets. Indeed do not women glory in their hair? But men do not glory in long hair (there are always exceptions to every generalisation, such as the Spartans). It is seen as a dishonour for it makes them seem effeminate. Men express themselves by trimming, or even shaving, their hair, women by letting it grow long. We may assume that this was certainly so among the Corinthians, and their neighbours. So does nature indicate that man should be uncovered and woman covered.

This is neither an instruction on how long the hair should be grown, nor stating that the hair is the covering Paul has been speaking about. It is rather drawing out significance from a natural illustration, suggesting that it is naturally intended to illustrate the situation between men and women. It should neither be analysed too deeply nor denied on the basis of exceptions. But there is certainly the suggestion there that nature intends to differentiate between men and women. Unisex is not pleasing to God. It is God’s pleasure that men and women are clearly distinguished.

'If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.' Paul finishes the section by indicating that a woman's hair is her glory. We have already seen that man is God's glory (1 Corinthians 11:7), and woman is man's glory (1 Corinthians 11:7), now the woman's hair is her glory, for it indicates her special place in the scheme of things as woman. It is her treasure and her status symbol. She is the life-giver (1 Corinthians 11:12), and co-partner with man as lord of creation, in his service of his Creator. She is there to give him pleasure (as he is there to give her pleasure - 1 Corinthians 7:4-5). But she should not be flaunting her glory in church. In church all concentration should be on giving glory, not receiving it.


Verse 16

'But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the churches of God.'

Paul now anticipates contention. Let those who disagree recognise that in the churches of God there is no such custom as to allow a woman to pray to God uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:13, the only probable antecedent). So having appealed to the word of God, and to nature, he now appeals to the example of him and his fellow-workers and to the example of the wider community, 'the churches', who all observe this principle.

When we come to modern worship the principle remains. Women are to be the helpers, even important helpers, but not the ones in overall authority. And this should be symbolised in some way by wearing a covering, not one that draws attention to the woman and brings glory to her, but one that brings glory to God. For it is to be made clear to the angels as well as to men that both observe and enjoy their rightful positions before God.

(Note. In this sphere as in many others man continually reveals his rebellion against God. On the one hand women are kept under harsh subjection in certain parts of the world, and the veil is a sign of her subjection, (although somewhat hypocritically portrayed otherwise when trying to justify it). That is not the idea here. On the other the veil is as it were thrown off and woman reveals, with man's approval, her total disregard of decency and chasteness by the way she dresses and behaves, or alternately her total disregard for God's order by trying to usurp man's place. Paul describes the happy medium as laid down at creation, a woman with freedom to serve God while still maintaining a true relationship with man. A woman who is chaste, accepting her role given to her from the time of creation, fulfilling her role as his true helpmeet, complementary to man, and working with him both as his equal and yet in respectful submission because it was for that that she was made. This is something only truly possibly under the Kingly Rule of God where the man also remembers his own responsibility in the partnership, loving his wife and womankind as Christ loves His church, His people.

And this brings out another aspect of the matter. We live in a sex ridden society. Women dress scantily and do up their hair in order to attract men. Men encourage it because they like to lust after women. But in church it is not to be so. There the woman should be bringing glory to the man and to God. The man should be bringing glory to God. The woman who trips into church with her latest hairstyle on display, and in her ostentatious or suggestive clothes is dishonouring God. She is reversing the scale of things. She is attracting worship to herself. To be fair to women they usually have no idea of the feelings they arouse in man. They do not realise that they are making true worship difficult for men and arousing thoughts that they should not have while seeking to worship God. They think men feel the same way as they do. But Paul knew. And God knows. And so He told women to keep themselves covered up in church).

Perhaps it may help to put the whole position in diagrammatic form:

The Forces of Good.

God

Christ

Redeemed Man

Redeemed Woman

The head of Christ

The head of man

the head of woman

glory on her head

Universal Salvation(US)

Author of US.

mediator of US.

assistant mediator of US.

The Forces of Evil.

Satan

Lost Mankind

Lost Womankind

usurper of creation

Satan’s helpmeet

Man’s chattel in rebellion.

Man is the glory and the image of God, the woman is the glory of man, the woman’s glory is her hair. Redeemed man’s status revealed in praying and prophesying uncovered and nurturing and caring for redeemed woman. Redeemed woman’s status revealed in praying and prophesying covered, and in working in harmony with man.


Verse 17

'But in giving you this charge, I do not praise you, that you come together not for the better but for the worse.'

Having deliberately praised them in 1 Corinthians 11:2 he now points out that he cannot praise them with regard to their attitude towards each other in Christian gatherings. For they come together, not for the better, but for the worse. They lose rather than gain by their presence at worship because of their behaviour and attitudes. Instead of gathering as one in true Christian love, with concern for each others edification, they are gathering for dissension and to display individuality and selfishness, both in the way they behave towards each other (1 Corinthians 11:18-34) and in the ways in which they worship (1 Corinthians 14:1-40). It is a sad day when a church is informed that its meetings are not for the better but for the worse, especially when it is by such a man as Paul.


Verses 17-33

Criticisms and Instructions With Regard to The Lord's Supper in Church Worship (11:17-33).

But Paul's dissatisfaction goes beyond just the covering of the hair and lack of restraint while praying and prophesying. He is also concerned for their general behaviour and lack of restraint when the churches gather together.


Verse 18

'For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear (present - 'am hearing continually') that divisions exist (present infinitive - therefore 'are constantly coming up') among you, and I partly believe it.'

The first thing that disturbs him is that there are divisions among them which keep rearing their heads, and these divisions do not appear to be the doctrinal ones of the earlier chapters but divisions resulting from social status that take place when they 'come together' as the church of Christ. (The 'first of all' is not specifically followed by a 'secondly', but the assumption is that what follows chapter 11 may be seen as the 'secondly'. Thus secondly might be seen as the divisions caused by the use of spiritual gifts).

'I hear --- and I partly believe it.' He has been informed of the situation by witnesses, and yet it is so incomprehensible that he is loth to believe that it can be true. Yet the strength of the witness is such that he finds himself having to believe it, although unwillingly. He hopes that he will be proved wrong. Certainly he hopes that it will not be as bad as has been suggested.

'When you come together in the church.' The early Christians did not meet in a church building, but in any convenient place, especially in larger cities in the large houses and courtyards of wealthier members. 'In the church' therefore means 'in the gathering of believers' wherever they met. 'When you come together' is also referred to in 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 11:20. The stress acts as background to the fact that in 'coming together' they actually accentuate their divisions. They come together to reveal their total disunity and lack of concern for each other.


Verse 19

'For there must be ('it is necessary for there to be') also factions among you, that those who are approved ('have stood the test') may be made manifest among you.'

He now gives a further reason why he 'partly believes it', and that is the necessity of it. This necessity arises either because he knows them well and views the Corinthians as being such that it is inevitable, or possibly because he knew that Jesus Himself had forecast that there would be factions and divisions, even within households, because of His name (Matthew 10:34-37; Matthew 24:9-13). And the divine result of these would be that those who were truly His would by them be revealed.

So while on the one hand he finds it difficult to believe that the church of Jesus Christ could behave in this way ('I partly believe it'), on the other he is sadly aware that this is not only possible but is forecast as something that is eventually coming. Thus he senses, knowing their propensities, that it may well be that the Corinthians are already caught up in it. There is a guarded warning here for them. Let them beware lest these factions demonstrate that they are not really of the truth.


Verse 20-21

'When therefore you assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's supper, for in your eating each one takes before the other his own supper. And one is hungry, and another is drunken.'

In those days Christians regularly 'assembled together' to pray, hear the reading of the Scriptures, and the Testimony of Jesus (the traditions about the life of Jesus) and to hear letters received from such as Paul. They probably also sang psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Mark 14:26). And, as we gather later, during these gatherings prophesying would also take place for the building up of the whole church.

And just as it was common in many religions of the day for worshippers to gather for a sacred meal, so it would seem that Christians had embraced the idea which had become a kind of love feast which was intended to express their love and unity (see Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:11 and compare Jude 1:12). This would apparently often take place while they were assembled. And during this feast, or after it, (we have no details), they would partake of the Lord's Supper.

'The Lord's Supper' was the name given to the partaking of the bread and wine in accordance with the example given by Jesus at the final Passover. It was 'the Lord's' because it was seen as belonging to the Lord, so that He presided over it, and because it was in His honour. Those who gathered at it came to meet with Him and partake spiritually of Him.

And the cause of his distress was their behaviour when they assembled together to eat such a meal, a meal during which they would partake of the Lord's Supper. For this latter, which was intended to be an expression of their total unity, had seemingly become impossible in any meaningful sense because instead of eating the earlier meal as a common meal together, different sections apparently took their own food, and ate apart in separate groups, the wealthier having sumptuous meals while others had little, and did it with scant regard that many had not yet arrived. What was worse some actually went hungry because they could bring no food and drink, or arrived too late, while others had so much that they even went to excess and became drunk, accentuating the awfulness of the situation (and many more would be 'merry').

There was thus a total lack of love and a sense of oneness. The whole thing, rather than being an expression of total unity and sharing in common, had become something emphasising total disunity and even lack of what was fit in God's presence. It had become a travesty of what the love feast, and especially the Lord's Supper, were supposed to be about. In observing these many of God's own people were left distressed, feeling left out and unwanted, while others partook while drunk or merry and in no state to worship. Godliness was forfeit. To pass around the bread and wine in such conditions was an insult to Christ.

‘It is not possible to eat the Lord's supper.’ In other words what they are participating in is not the Lord’s Supper, whatever name they like to give it, because it is denying all that the Lord’s Supper stands for. By it they are revealing disunity, lack of love and consideration, contempt for others, and even a contempt for God by appearing before Him drunk. It was a complete travesty.

We do not know the exact details that lay behind this complaint, and possibly it is as well, for it can then be applied to many situations. It is possible that the wealthy householders in whose house and courtyard the church assembled, invited those of equal status to themselves to partake of a separate meal in their dining hall (which would be too small to hold everyone), leaving others to see to themselves in the courtyard when they arrived, either leaving them to bring their own food or providing inferior food, but insufficient to satisfy all. In that case it is even possible that some of the lesser food itself was given out with discrimination, the better quality being designated by the householder for the slightly lower level of free men and important bondslaves, and a much lower quality, and even almost nothing, being made available for the lowest classes. And there would also be those who, through unavoidable circumstances, could only arrive late, for whom there would be nothing left. Such discrimination at secular feasts was certainly known and practised, but at a supposed feast of unity Paul saw it as disgraceful. Where was their oneness in Christ?

Or it may be that different groups each brought their own food and were unwilling to share it, preferring to stay with their own kind and in their own groups. Or it may include the fact that that some did not want to share what others brought because they despised it. But whatever the reasons it was destroying the oneness of their coming together. They were being split into factions, with different groups eating separately, and others going hungry, with no sense of oneness, and that at the table of the Lord.

It was clear that at this supposed assembly of themselves unity and oneness was not a consideration. It just did not exist. How then could they celebrate the Lord's Supper in such circumstances? For that was to be the one place where all were intended to be revealed as equal, where rich and poor were to be seen to be on the same level, where all races were to be seen as united as one, where they should have all things in common, and where they were intended to express their full equality in Christ, declaring that they were one bread and one body. Thus their gatherings had become a total travesty of what the Lord's table was supposed to be about.

All this went along with their party spirit (1 Corinthians 1:12), their arrogant view of themselves (1 Corinthians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 4:10; 1 Corinthians 4:19), their attitude to gross sin (1 Corinthians 5:2), their greed and covetousness (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), their selfishness and disregard for others in their use of their knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:11), and as we shall see later in the use of their spiritual gifts (14). They may have been 'sanctified in Christ' (1 Corinthians 1:2), but they were giving little indication of it.


Verse 22

'What, do you not have houses to eat and to drink in? Or do you despise the church of God, and put those to shame who have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.'

Could they not see that this open show of separation and disunity was the very opposite of what Jesus had declared when He said, 'by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another' (John 13:35). Would it not then be better that they ate at home, and held their feasts and their big meals with their friends there? Let them have their social gatherings at home, and be fully satisfied there, so that when they came to the church they could partake in a simple common meal together, in which all could join on equal terms, and feel equally at home, and during which they could celebrate the Lord's Supper in such a way that the unity of the church was revealed. Indeed, he asks, do they so despise the church, the very people of God, many of whom are of the poorer classes (1 Corinthians 1:28), that they put those who have little to shame by their behaviour? He is at a loss what to say to them. There is no way that he can praise them. He considers that their whole attitude is frankly appalling.

We note that Paul does not suggest that the remedy is that they all pool their food. The whole set up and the loose behaviour that it produces is not conducive to worship. And he does recognise also that outside the church there are social distinctions and customs which people feel bound by, and that thereby different sections of society do eat different types of foods. Indeed rich food provided to those used to meagre diets might not be helpful in both the short and the long term, causing first upset stomachs and then later disgruntlement and dissatisfaction and covetousness. And this would not be good for anyone. The Kingly Rule of God is not about what food we eat (Romans 14:17). Such distinctions may exist, and may even be necessary in their place. But the point is that they must not be introduced into the gathering of Christians to the detriment of some. At the Lord's Supper all must be equal and be able to partake equally.

In order to bring this home he then stresses what the Lord's Supper is all about.


Verse 23-24

'For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." '

This should be read in the light of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 where the uniting influence of the bread is stressed and where it is seen as representing the oneness of the body of Christ. Note there the stress on the fact that all concentration is to be on the breaking and giving of the bread as a united people, a concentration which must have been lacking in the way the Corinthians were behaving, sitting apart from each other with no sense of oneness, and in some cases quite merry. Their minds should have been set on the Lord, and the one bread being broken, and the one body of Christ that it represented, and the giving of thanks, and the solemn remembrance of what it all represented in terms of the broken body of the Lord Jesus, dying to make them one in Him. But they were not.

It is often suggested that the church is the body of Christ on earth, but that is not the real idea or significance of the church as 'the body'. What it represents is that we are united with Him as it were in His body in Heaven. We are raised and seated with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). We are one with Him in His death and resurrection. There is a spiritual union. Thus it is from Heaven, and as one with Him, that we operate as His body. We must not separate Christ from His body (even as its head) we must recognise the essential unity of Christ with His body and His body with Him, so that both operate as one.

'For I received of the Lord.' Some would see this as an assertion that Paul had had a direct revelation from the Lord about this. Others would see it as meaning that he received it from the Lord through the Apostles. The latter point out that tradition was often described as 'received', marking its genuine authority, having passed through a number of hands. It would then be 'delivered'. (These words were regularly used by the Jews of receiving and passing on authoritative tradition). A third alternative is that he is in fact citing the form of words used at a typical service, 'I received of the Lord' being the words of the original citer of the words. Different ones see different emphases but the important fact is that he is stressing that however it came this was something directly from the Lord, which was therefore most holy, and therefore a firm requirement of His which could not be argued about. It was something that as Christians they were committed to.

'That which also I delivered to you.' He had solemnly delivered it to them exactly as he had received it. The responsibility for it had therefore passed on to them. It had come to them authoritatively from an authoritative source, and he exhorts them to reconsider it.

'That the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread.' He wants them to recognise the supreme importance of this event. It was the very night in which their Lord Jesus Himself was betrayed that He did it, stressing its significance. How crucial it therefore was. There may be a hint here that they should consider whether they too were now betraying Him by their behaviour.

It is an open question whether the betrayal in mind here is that by Judas, the disciple who proved to be false, and therefore acts as an especial warning to erring disciples, or that by the Jewish leaders who betrayed Him to Rome, brother betraying brother. Either way it was applicable to this situation.

'Took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." ' They should note how, in that solemn time, He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, offering it as something by which He, and what He was about to do at the cross, would be remembered. This was done as a reminder that all who ate of that bread were those who had been made one in Christ and had received all the benefits of what He had done for them ('which is for you'). And as broken bread it was a reminder of His death for them, and what He had suffered for them. But the brokenness also indicated that each one might receive individually the benefit of His death.

'This is my body.' As always when interpreting a phrase we should see it in its context. The context of these words was originally the Passover where bread was taken and blessed with the words, 'this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate when they came out of Egypt'. In the latter case each generation of Israelites 'entered in' to the deliverance in spirit. They did not actually believe that the bread was transformed into the same bread, but that it acted as a memorial which meant that through it they could identify themselves spiritually with the deliverance which reached down to all true Israelites through time. As they partook they recognised that they too were the redeemed of God and could express their gratitude by being faithful to the covenant, recognising that they were united within that covenant, and looking forward to future deliverance that the prophets had promised.

In the same way Jesus was not saying that the bread actually was His body. He was still in His body. No religious manipulation or miracle could make something which was not His body into His body when He was in fact still in His body. But through the bread He was representing what was about to happen to His body, it would be broken, and through the bread and their partaking of it He was stressing that by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35) they could partake of Him as the Bread of life. While they were partaking of the memorial they too could again enter into His experience on the cross. Having died with Him and risen with Him (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4-6), they could recognise their need to die daily with Him and rise in newness of life (Romans 6:11; compare Galatians 2:20), being one people together, united in Him and in His covenant.

But how could their thoughts be solemnly attuned to these great words, and their huge significance, and be concentrated on their participation in Him and His cross and resurrection in unity with all who were His, when at the very time of eating they were revealing both their lack of concern for each other, and their lack of oneness by being in separate groups, and by many of them also being in a merry state so that they could not approach the matter seriously and appropriately? This was especially so as the Supper was intended to be emphasising the unity of the body in Him. It was impossible.

'Do this in remembrance of me.' This was to be more than just seeing it as a mere memorial. The remembrance was in order to make them active participators in what had happened. As they partook they should themselves feel that they were participating with Him in His cross and resurrection. They should sense themselves as once again dying with Him and rising with Him. They should once more enjoy all the blessings that came to them through that experience by participating in Him by faith (John 6:35; Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:16-19) and continually committing themselves to a life of sacrificial obedience (Romans 12:1-2).

With regard to the differing wording from Matthew, Mark and Luke we should note that different churches may well have used different forms of words, with the central core remaining the same (as it does in each version - see note below), which would help to explain the slight differences between them all, although this latter may equally result from the emphasis each writer is seeking to present as he translates from the Aramaic. Paul is certainly using the words to emphasise what he is saying here. No doubt in fact a number of factors played a part in the differences (see note below).


Verse 25

'In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'

Paul here stresses that the cup also is a similar memorial. As they partake of the wine they are entering into the experience of His cross (as it were 'drinking His blood' - John 6:53). and recognising that through it they have been sealed as participators in the new covenant which itself was sealed by that blood shedding. They had thus, through His death, became one people in Christ within the covenant of His blood.

And as they drank of that special cup of wine set aside it was to be a reminder of that new covenant (treaty, contract, between an overlord and his subjects or a superior and his inferiors) into which they had entered. And what is that new covenant? It is the new covenant with God whereby through Christ's sacrifice of Himself they become His new people, and come within the orbit of His forgiveness, and of His acceptance, and of His 'setting of them apart' (sanctifying them) totally to Him, just as the old people of Israel had been set part as His holy people at Sinai. From the moment of entering that covenant they were to be totally His, acceptable in His presence and totally one with each other. How then could they then celebrate it when they were so conspicuously not showing love towards one another?

'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Matthew and Mark have 'this is my blood of the covenant.' The latter exactly parallels 'this is my body' and also connects with Exodus 24:8, where God's covenant with His people at Sinai (Exodus 20) is sealed with 'the blood of the covenant'. In Exodus, however, the blood is the blood of animals, but here Jesus stresses that it represents His own blood. Thus He is referring to a covenant, a new one, sealed with His own blood, which is what Luke and Paul make clear in their paraphrase.

'Do this -- in remembrance of me.' And central to that new covenant was Jesus Himself. Above all they were to remember Him. It was In Him that they became participators in the new covenant. It was through Him that they obtained their acceptability with God. All thoughts were thus to be concentrated on Him, a remembering that meant accepting their part with Him in His death and resurrection.

Paul alone applies these words about remembrance to the cup, but there is no reason why we should not see the Lord as having said them as an after-comment on what we read in Matthew, Mark and Luke. They were indeed necessary for He would want to emphasise the epoch making change that He was introducing.

We often overlook, in our familiarity with this ordinance, what an earth-shattering claim Jesus was making. He was informing all who would hear that He had displaced the Passover, that great feast which had been celebrated for over a thousand years. He was saying that men should no longer look back to the great deliverance wrought in Egypt, because a greater deliverance was now here in Him. He was declaring that that old deliverance was to be put aside. Rather they should from now on look to the even greater deliverance wrought through His cross, where, as the true Passover lamb, He was sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), leading us out of the world and into the Kingly Rule of God. The old covenant was replaced by a new one sealed in His blood. The old ways were gone, the new had come. Thus its importance was something that He would stress while He was introducing it and would then emphasise again. By the time the Gospels were written the emphasis would be unnecessary, for the feast was already established permanently, and the writers did not feel it necessary to mention ‘do this in remembrance of Me’, but it very much suits Paul's purpose to mention it.

'As often as you drink.' We do not know whether this signifies whenever they drank wine (which in the circumstances of the poorer ones might not be so often, although cheap wine was certainly available), or whenever they drank wine set aside by the elders of the assembly for the purpose in a special celebration. The latter seems more probable as Paul will now stress that the Supper should be a special event. How often the Supper was in fact celebrated in the early days we do not know.


Verse 26

'For as often as you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he come.'

And in their participation of Him in this way they should also recognise that they were proclaiming His death, in which they were participating, something they would continue to do until His coming again. This feast would go on and on being celebrated and would never cease until His return at His second coming. Through it they would continue to proclaim the Lord's death, and all that it signified, until that coming again. Thus the Lord's Supper was to be both a looking back to His death and resurrection (a proclaiming of His death and a recognition that we have been crucified and raised with Him - Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:6), a present participation in His death (reckoning ourselves daily as having died with Him and having risen again - Romans 6:11), and a looking forward to the final fruits of His death and resurrection when He would come in glory to be revealed as Lord of all (chapter 15). And it was an expression of His total oneness together with His people.

'You proclaim the Lord's death till he come.' Some see this as signifying that the proclaiming is not in the act of the meal, but a proclaiming that takes place while the meal is going on. But both are surely part of each other. The meal certainly proclaims His death, and no doubt verbal proclamation also took place. But it does emphasise that central to both is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him the crucified One (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:2). It may be that some of the Corinthians were seeing other symbols from the meal than that of Jesus Christ in His death for them, possibly in terms of a magical reception of divine power and enlightenment. So Paul again emphasises the centrality of 'the word of the cross' (1 Corinthians 1:18).


Verse 27

'Wherefore whoever 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.'

This being so what a great sin it is that men participate in the Lord's Supper in anything but the most genuine way, and without the most serious of thoughts. Especially that they participate in a spirit of disunity. By doing so they are trifling with the cross, are guilty of His death because they treat it lightly, and are as it were crucifying Him afresh to no purpose (compare Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 6:6). And this is precisely what the Corinthians were in danger of doing, for they were openly negating one aspect of what He had come to do, the uniting in one in full equality of all who are His. And many of them were also approaching Him in a casual spirit.

'In an unworthy manner.' In context this means casually, both in casualness of spirit (being merry) and in sinful disharmony and with sinful discrimination (being in disunity), without regard for what the Lord's Supper represents. This does not refer to our not sufficiently appreciating what we are participating in, for none of us ever do that, nor does it refer to our not being in a state of total worthiness, for we never are although we should seek to be. Our total worthiness is rather in Christ. So it rather means not approaching participation in a totally casual way, which includes in this case overt disunity and lack of brotherly love, with the result that participation has become a meaningless exercise, trivialised and lost in other excesses.


Verse 28

'But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.'

So the warning comes that each one should test and prove himself, presumably by self-examination, by a coming to the blood of Christ for cleansing (1 John 1:7), and then by a deliberate act of unity in coming together as one with the whole church, before he partakes of the Lord's Supper. He is to examine his heart and ensure that there is nothing in his life which is at present displeasing to God. Then, once his heart is right, his conscience is clear, and he is at one with his brothers, he may eat of the bread and drink of the cup, in solemn reaffirmation of his faith and position in Christ.


Verse 29-30

'For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he discern not the body. For this reason many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.'

For all who come eating and drinking of the Lord's Supper, who do not discern in it His body, and His dying for them, and through it His uniting of them all in His body as one, drink judgment on themselves. Indeed that is why there is sickness among them, and quite a few have died ('sleep' is the Christian synonym for death). This would suggest something unusual which had happened, above the norm, which Paul saw as the chastening of God, for it was not seemingly a judgment that affected their eternal future. It had openly happened, and all were aware of it. It was not theoretical. And it was to be seen as a chastening of the whole church.

'If he discern not the body.' In chapter 10 stress was laid on the fact that the bread was the representation of the body, and that that included both the body of the Lord Jesus and the body composed of His people as united with Himself. The bread represented His physical body, but it also represented His people made one with Him. Both have to be discerned as one for they are inseparable (Ephesians 2:15-16). Thus as we come to the Lord's Supper we must discern the Lord's body, that is, we must recognise that it proclaims His death for us and that we come as participators in His death and resurrection, and we must equally discern that we are all therefore one body in Christ sharing with Him in His death and resurrection.


Verse 31-32

'But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged (krino). But when we are judged (krino), we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned (katakrino) with the world.'

These things (the sickliness and the deaths) arise, he points out, because they are not discerning about their own state, they do not recognise themselves as not behaving like the true body of Christ (they do not discern the body). They arise from God's chastening of them as a result of His judgment on them, which, had they been spiritually discerning they would have avoided. Yet nevertheless they can console themselves in this, that His chastening is in order to prevent the necessity of His final judgment (katakrino) on them, the final judgment that is coming on the whole world. Let them take heed to His chastening, therefore, and repent.

So three ideas are prominent. The first is the need for us to discern 'ourselves' (doubly stressed), that is by self-examination and coming to the light of the Lord to examine ourselves and seek His forgiveness and renewal (compare 1 John 1:7-10). The second is that should we fail to discern ourselves God will do it for us and enter into judgment with us and chasten us. And the third is that, while He deals with us as His own by chastening, even severe chastening, the world outside awaits final severer judgment.


Verse 33

'Wherefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait one for another. If any man is hungry, let him eat at home, that your coming together be not to judgment. And the rest will I set in order whenever I come.'

So his ultimate conclusion is that they should not hold sumptuous feasts when they gather to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Rather, if they are hungry (desirous of large meals), they should have such at home, so that they will not by their behaviour reveal their greed and lack of oneness in the assembly. Then when they do come together prior to the Supper, they should eat only what all can eat so that they can eat together in unity. And let them wait until all are assembled and thus celebrate their love feast and the Lord's Supper rightly and with decorum. Let them demonstrate that they are one in Spirit and have all things in common. This would seem to confirm the idea that one of the problems was that some would have their sumptuous meals before all had arrived, leaving those who came late, because of their duties and the difficulty they had in getting away (who would probably mainly be the neediest), with little or nothing to eat, and simply left to survey the scraps of the large meals eaten by their 'brothers', and possibly even left to partake in a secondary Lord's Supper, the others having already participated.

'And the rest will I set in order whenever I come.' We do not know what this 'rest' consisted of but he clearly felt that it was not so important that he needed to deal with it in his letter.

Note on the Different Versions of the Passover Meal.

We shall first consider the breaking of the bread passages, putting in capitals the words which are exactly the same.

Matthew 26:26 'And as they were eating, Jesus TOOK BREAD, and blessed, and BROKE IT, and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; THIS IS MY BODY.'

Mark 14:22 'And as they were eating, he TOOK BREAD, and when he had blessed, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, and said, Take you, THIS IS MY BODY.'

Luke 22:19 'And he TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, saying, THIS IS MY BODY which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.'

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 'For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and said, "THIS IS MY BODY, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." '

Common to all is that HE TOOK BREAD, BROKE IT AND SAID, 'THIS IS MY BODY', stressing the essential unity of the passages. Matthew adds to Jesus' words, 'Take you, eat', Mark adds 'Take you'. Luke and Paul omit this but it is clearly implied. Luke adds, 'Which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me,' and Paul adds, 'which is for you, Do this in remembrance of me'. Paul's 'which is for you' parallels Matthew's 'take, eat' and especially Mark's 'take you'. Luke's 'given for you' simply amplifies the idea. Thus the basic idea is the same in all, with small differences of presentation in order to bring out particular points. The additional words, 'Do this in remembrance of me' are really required to explain the perpetuation of the feast in the early church. Thus even if we had not been told about it we would have had to assume it. Indeed, while 'This is my body' would certainly be impressive standing alone, it requires extra words for it to make sense to the hearers. It is possibly the writers and ministers, not the original speaker, who wish it to stand in its starkness, knowing that the readers/recipients would know its deeper significance. What His exact words in Aramaic were can only be postulated. The Greek in each case gives the true meaning.

Slightly more complicated are the words about the cup.

Matthew 26:27-28 'And he took a CUP, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink you all of it, for THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many to remission of sins.'

Mark 14:23-24 'And he took a CUP, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them, and they all drank of it, and he said to them, THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many.'

Luke 22:20 And the CUP in like manner after supper, saying, THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD, even that which is poured out for you.'

1 Corinthians 11:25 'In the same way also the CUP, after supper, saying, "THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'

In each Jesus takes a cup and says, 'This is the covenant in my blood', or the more stark equivalent in Hebrew form, 'This is my blood of the covenant'. The former is interpretive of the latter. Luke and Paul add that it is a 'new' covenant, for they would want their Gentile readers to know that it was not the old Jewish covenant renewed. But all were aware that it was a new covenant, partly in accordance with God's promise in Jeremiah 31:31, and partly because it was 'in His blood' and looked to the cross, and Jesus' very words and actions demanded it even if He did not say it. Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that He said, 'which is poured out for ---'. Mark simply adds, 'for many', Luke adds. 'for you' and Matthew adds 'for many to remission of sins'. Paul omits this but adds, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me', which is actually required to be said by Jesus (or something like it) to establish the permanence of it as a symbol. As Mark's 'for many' probably has Isaiah 53, 11, 12 in mind it has the same significance as Matthew's longer phrase 'for many to remission of sins'. 'Luke's 'you' simply personalises it, recognising that the 'you' is by then being spoken to the whole church who are the 'many' for whom Christ died. Thus the essential meaning is again the same. As with the bread the importance of doing it in remembrance must at some time have been said by Jesus for the Apostles to take up the feast and perpetuate it as they did. The slight overall differences emphasise the point each is seeking to bring out as they translate or paraphrase from the Aramaic, without altering the basic sense.

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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