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Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 11



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Verse 1

It was impossible for Christians in almost any Greek or Roman colony, and least of all at Corinth, to avoid coming frequently in contact with idolatrous practices in various and ensnaring forms. In writing, therefore, for instruction and direction on various practical points, we can hardly suppose that this would be omitted. Here, accordingly, it is dealt with in great detail.

Verse 14

Attendance at Idolatrous Feasts, 1 Corinthians 10:14 to 1 Corinthians 11:1

When the first love of the converts began to cool, and, as a natural consequence, they drew closer to their heathen acquaintances and fellow-citizens, invitations would be given them, in the first instance, to the private houses of their friends, and, by and by, to the religious festivals of their townsmen. For accepting such invitations plausible reasons would easily occur. How such inconsistency was viewed by our apostle we are now to see.

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 11:1. Be ye imitators of me, as I also am of Christ. This verse manifestly belongs to the former chapter, from which it has been unhappily severed. Having just told them how he himself acted in cases of the kind referred to, the apostle here simply bids them follow his example, as in so doing they would copy that of Christ Himself.

Verse 2

even as I delivered them to you. Even the Rhemish Version renders it “precepts,” the Authorised Version ordinances, that is, the directions which he gave them for their guidance.

Verses 2-16

After the severe censures with which the preceding chapter closes, the apostle seems glad to resume here that quiet tone in which he is most at home with his spiritual children. In fact, on the present subject it was not censure but direction that was wanted, as some difficulty might reasonably be felt.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 11:3. But (since on this point you may need further direction) I would have you know that the head of every man (‘male’) is Christ. Though this is true universally—for “He hath given Him power over all flesh, “and to be” Head over all things to the Church,” it is of Christians that the apostle is here speaking—in whose case it is used in a higher sense—and more particularly of the male sex.

and the head of the woman (under Christ) is the man, and the head of Christ is God—considered as the Father’s Servant (Isaiah 42:1, Isa 53:13), in which capacity He spake when He said, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given me to do” (John 17:4). “Though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered,” and “became obedient even unto death.” It is in this aspect of mutual relation in the work of redemption that “the Head of Christ is God”—with which His proper Personal Divinity is in entire harmony. These general truths are now applied to the case in hand.

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 11:4. Every man (‘male’ person) praying or prophesying—that is, ‘speaking by Divine Inspiration,’ either to God in public prayer, or from God in preaching, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head—covering what God made to be exposed.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 11:5. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoureth her head. A number of critics take the word “head” in these two verses figuratively, as if the meaning were: The man dishonoured Christ as his head, and the woman her husband as her head (Calvin, De Wette, Osiander, Stanley, Alford). But this seems to us very unnatural; whereas if we take the meaning to be that each sex disgraces itself by appearing in public unsuitably to what nature teaches to be the peculiarity of each, the words have their natural sense (and so Erasmus, Estius, Bengel, Meyer). The heathen priests of Rome officiated with covered heads (just as the modern Jews all pray with the tallith or veil over their heads); but the Greek priests officiated with uncovered head, as there is reason to think the ancient Jews also did. And since Christianity taught that “there is neither male nor female” in Christ, the Corinthians might think the Greek custom more accordant with the new religion than the other. Such an impression the apostle here corrects. That the made converts covered their heads in public worship there is no reason from the first words of this verse to think; the supposition is only made to illustrate the impropriety of the women doing the opposite.

for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven:—‘If she will officiate with bare head, she may just as well have it shaven;’ the severest censure he could pass upon it. For while a shaven head was a sign of mourning both among the Jews (Deuteronomy 21:12) and among the Greeks (as appears from Homer and Euripides), it was in unchaste women a mark of shamelessness, and was a punishment for adultery.

Note.—As this seems to allow of women officiating in the public assemblies of the Church, whereas in chap. 14 it is forbidden, some expositors think the apostle is here speaking of prophesying in private or at home. But no such imitation is here indicated; and it is more natural to suppose that the apostle deals here only with what is abstractly proper, reserving the question whether such female “praying or prophesying” in public was commendable or not to a subsequent stage of his argument (chap. 14). That the practice did exist at Corinth, the preceding verses seem dearly to shew; but that it should be done in so indecent a form he might at once forbid, without requiring to enter here on the general question.

Verses 6-10

Ver. 6. For if a woman is not yelled, let her also be shorn.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 11:7. For, etc. This whole view of the relation of the sexes is founded on a combination of Genesis 1, 2. As the first chapter gives the creation of man as man, both sexes are included (1 Corinthians 11:27); the woman, as an essential portion of humanity, created in Adam, being as truly “the image and glory of God” as the man. But in the second chapter, we have first the creation of the male, and then (not as a second creation, but) out of and from the man, the making of woman is recorded. Further, since Adam, though including the woman, was made to have dominion over all here below, the woman was made distinctively to be “a help meet” for “the man,” it being “not good for the man to be alone.” In these recorded facts, then, the apostle had the materials for his own statement made ready to his hand, which in substance is this—‘The man, as the image and glory of God, in having dominion over sublunary things, ought not to have his head—his noblest and most godlike feature—covered in the public assemblies of the Church; but since the woman is distinctively the glory of the man, out of and for whom she was formed, this glory, belonging all to her husband, should be reserved for him at home, and in the public assemblies she should be veiled.’

Ver. 7. For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head. This verse has puzzled critics more than almost any other. To refute the almost endless interpretations, most of them manifestly false, would be needless. With the simple supplement here inserted, the words speak for themselves; the veil being viewed as the symbol of her subjection to her husband.

because of the angels—a statement which from its unusual character is apt to startle one. The meaning probably is, that as “ministering spirits to do service to the heirs of salvation,” and so, present though unseen in their religious assemblies, they ought, in consideration of this, to avoid anything unbefitting the modesty of their sex.

Verse 11

Verse 12

1 Corinthians 11:12. For as the woman is of (‘out of’) the man, so also is the man by (‘through’) the woman—in his birth; but all things are of God.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 11:13. Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God (in public) unveiled?

Verse 14

1 Corinthians 11:14. Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonour to him? The Roman satirist lashes the effeminacy of some men in his day who wore their hair long (Juv., Sat. ii. 96).

Verse 15

1 Corinthians 11:15. But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for, etc. After laying down the principle that should guide each sex in such matters, he now appeals to their own sense of decency and propriety (compare 1 Corinthians 10:15).

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 11:16. But if any man seemeth to be contentions, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God:—‘If in the spirit of contradiction a man will not yield to such considerations, let him know at least that he is setting himself against the universal practice, and disturbing the peace of God’s churches.’

Note.—To those who, in a narrow spirit, insist on having Divine prescription for the most insignificant details of religious life and public worship, this appeal to “nature itself,” as a great guide in relation to the decencies of public worship, should read a wholesome lesson. Nature, though uniform in its essential features, varies in all that is subordinate in different regions and at different periods. In matters of feeling, taste, and decorum, as to the way in which the relation of the sexes should be expressed, eastern and western ideas notoriously and widely differ, and they should be allowed their natural and proper development. This applies to all arrangements for public worship as well as social usage. Whatever in church organization and public worship is injurious to vital Christianity—to spiritual life—is to be discountenanced, as sacrificing the end to the means; but within those limits, not a little variety, suggested by national taste or climatic conditions, is surely admissible.

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 11:17. But in giving you this charge, I praise you not,(1) that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. The “charge” or “command” is not what went before (as most modern interpreters understand it), but—as will appear on careful study, we think—the whole directory here following, as to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Verses 17-34

The immediate object of this section is to denounce certain gross disorders in the celebration of this ordinance which had crept into the Corinthian church; but this gives occasion to so comprehensive and remarkable an account of the original institution and design of that ordinance, that it is fitted to settle all the questions about it which have divided Christians, and every clause of it has riveted the attention of earnest Christians, and helped them much in their conception and observance of it.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 11:18. For first of all, when ye come together in the churchGr. ‘in church,’ (‘to meeting,’ as we might say), for there is next to no authority for the Greek article before “church,” I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it—a delicate way of saying what was unpleasant. For he is going to speak in no pleasant manner of their behaviour in relation to the Lord’s Supper.

Verse 19

1 Corinthians 11:19. For there most be also heresies among you. The word signifies, first, a ‘taking’ or ‘choice;’ then, the thing chosen, and (in matters of judgment) an ‘opinion’ or set of opinions: here it is used in a bad sense, as in Galatians 5:20, for opinions tending to rend the Church.

that they which are approved (of God) may be made manifest among you—by contrast with the others.

Verse 20

1 Corinthians 11:20. When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 11:21. for in your eating, each one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another drinketh freely. To understand how such a state of things could exist, we must bear in mind the way in which the Lord’s Supper was then observed. In apostolic times it was never observed by itself, so far as appears, but always in connection with those friendly meals called ‘Agapse’ or ‘Love Feasts,’ designed partly to exhibit and exemplify the equality of all Christians—rich and poor, slaves and masters alike—but also as a way of helping the poorer members without creating the feeling of pauperism. Accordingly, the rich brought of their abundance to these tables, and the humbler classes what they could. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper was not celebrated before such meals, nor, strictly speaking, after them, but in close juxtaposition with them—sitting at the same table at which these meals were spread out. The idea of this was taken from the way in which the Jewish Passover was celebrated—a sumptuous meal at which were taken successive cups of wine with bread, after a fixed form, and with eucharistic chantings of portions of the Psalms. In this view, it is easy to see how some, having no very high views of the ordinance, might come to the table, “not to eat the Lord’s Supper,” but to get a good meal; and how they might come dropping in, and take their places one after another, as 1 Corinthians 11:22 shows that they actually did. Thus, in place of a simultaneous observance of the Lord’s Supper, every one might be seen “taking his own supper before other”—“one hungry,” namely, the poor, who were put off with a sorry portion, another “drinking freely.”(1)

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 11:22. Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God?—emphatically so named here, as in 1 Corinthians 11:16, to express the affront put upon God Himself, regarded as present in their assemblies.

and put them to shame that have not—namely, the poor, by exposing their poverty and making them feel it. Since all these disorders sprang from their forgetting what they had been taught on this subject, the apostle now formally and at some length repeats it.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 11:23. For I received of(1) the Lordthe Lord Jesus, as the next clause shows.that which also I delivered unto you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said,(2) This is my body, which is given(3) for you: this do in remembrance of me. Language could not make it more clear than it is here, that the memorial design of this institution is the primary one.

Verse 25

1 Corinthians 11:25. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant(1) in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. Here the memorial design of the Lord’s Supper is reiterated, as if to teach that, if this was not its sole design, yet any view of it, which either sinks this altogether or throws it into the shade, must be erroneous.

Verse 26

1 Corinthians 11:26. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup,(1) ye proclaim the Lord’s deathhold it forth as, to you, a certain facttill he come.(2) This clearly shows not only that the observance of this ordinance was designed to continue from the very time of its first institution till the second appearing of the Lord Jesus, but that the belief of the one as the great accomplished fact of the past, and of the other as the great expected fact of the future, was—as the substance of all Christianity—proclaimed by every participant of the Lord’s Supper, and the faith of the one and the hope of the other are the two “wings as eagles,” on which the Christian mounts up heavenward.

Verse 27

Verse 28

1 Corinthians 11:28. But let a man examine himself—since on himself will rest the ultimate responsibility, whoever else may examine him.—and so (supposing the result satisfactory) let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Verse 29

1 Corinthians 11:29. For he that eateth or drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body. (The evidence for the omission of “unworthily” and “Lord’s” before “body” is, we think, conclusive; but the sense is the same.) “Discerning the body” sounds very abrupt to us who are accustomed to the fuller form; but it is perhaps all the more emphatic.(1) By “eating and drinking Judgment” is meant incurring the effects of the Divine displeasure.

Verse 30

1 Corinthians 11:30. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few fall asleep. Physical weakness, sickness, and death are undoubtedly meant here. Possibly some marked calamitous visitations of that church may be in view, the nature of which, however, it were in vain to conjecture.

Verse 31

Verse 32

1 Corinthians 11:32. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. It is to prevent our being condemned with the unbelieving world that our Father lovingly chastens when we need it

Verse 33

1 Corinthians 11:33. Wherefore, when ye come together to eat, wait for one another—instead of your unseemly practice of “each one eating before other his own supper,”

Verse 34

1 Corinthians 11:34. If any man is hungry, let Him eat at home. ‘The religious gatherings of believers are for higher purposes man satisfying the cravings of natural appetite:—this should be done at home.’

that your coming together be not unto judgment—do not issue in blighting rather than blessing.

And the rest—any other matters on this subject requiring to be looked into—will I set in order whensoever I come—implying a shade of uncertainty as to the event.

Note.—If the two opposite theories of the Lord’s Supper, which have occasioned such protracted controversy in the Church, are brought face to face with the strange abuses of that ordinance at Corinth which are here depicted, we cannot but think that it would go far to show with which of them the apostle’s teaching best accords. The one theory is, that under the forms or elements of bread and wine the body and blood of Christ are really—corporeally—present, given, received, and partaken of by the communicants, whether worthy or unworthy, believing or not believing. But while the Church of Rome holds and teaches that, after consecration, the elements are ‘transubstantiated’ into the body and blood of Christ—existing no more save in their ‘form’ or appearance—and that in the Lord’s Supper ‘there is made a true, proper propitiatory sacrifice for the sins both of the living and the dead;’ the Lutheran Church holds and teaches that the elements remain the same after consecration as before, but that ‘in, with, and under’ them Christ is really corporeally present, offered, and received; and they utterly repudiate the sacrificial theory of the Eucharist, as dishonouring to the one all-perfect sacrifice of the Cross. What is common, however, to both these Churches is their doctrine of a material presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The opposite of this theory is, that the Lord’s Supper was designed to represent and set forth through the senses to the minds of believing communicants the one sacrifice for sins, which “for ever perfects them that are sanctified;” that while on the communion table there is only bread and wine, the faith of the devout communicant pierces through the outward elements to that of which they are the instituted symbols, and discerns “Jesus Christ openly crucified before his eyes;” and opening his soul to Him, there and thus set forth, he holds living fellowship with Him, “receives of His fulness and grace for grace;” by faith he eats the flesh and drinks the blood of the Son of man—in all the sacrificial significance and precious fruits of His atoning death—in a fresh sense of pardon, peace, access to God, newness of life and hope of glory.

Now suppose that the first theory was what the apostle taught to the Corinthian Church, the question arises, What sort of abuse would this be likely to generate? Could they possibly confound it with an ordinary meal, and come dropping in one after another, each to satisfy his own appetite? Is the thing conceivable? Nay, if they but vividly realised what this theory supposes—that Christ Himself is corporeally on the communion table—would they not draw near with an awe approaching to dread as they took into their—hands so ‘tremendous a mystery’—as the phrase is?(1) But since the very opposite of all this was what the Corinthians did, we confidently affirm that no such view of the Lord’s Supper was or could have been taught by the apostle at Corinth. Well, let us next try the other theory, bringing it face to face with the Corinthian abuses. According to that theory, the apostle taught that nothing is on the Lord’s table, from first to last, but bread and wine, and that Christ is present there only to the faith which realises it through the instituted symbols. In that case, of course, unbelieving and unspiritual communicants would discern no Christ there at all, nor draw forth through it aught of His fulness as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. Even real converts, but slightly affected with the death there held forth, and the glory of His promised presence there, would pay more attention to the outward scene, in its varied arrangements and impressive actions, than to what it was designed to convey. Above all, since we know that the celebration of this ordinance was associated with an ordinary meal, would not the danger be great that superficial communicants would forget that they “had houses” of their own “to eat and drink in,” and come to the Lord’s table rather to satisfy the cravings of nature than to “shew the Lord’s death”? Beyond all reasonable doubt, if any such abuses crept in as this chapter tells us existed at Corinth, this second theory is that alone which could explain it: on the other theory we confidently say the thing is inconceivable.


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

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