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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1. Followers—This verse belongs to the close of the last chapter, and should be read in continuation.

Of Christ—He would have followers, not as being original and independent, but as he was imitator and follower of the divine model.


Verse 2

2. Now I praise you—Softening the warnings of the previous chapters.

That—Literally rendered, All of mine ye have remembered, and all the deliverances I have delivered ye receive. This is to prepare the way for his now prescribing the methods of worship. Ordinances usually imply doctrines handed down from generation to generation; here, the directions personally imparted.


Verses 2-16

PAUL’S SIXTH RESPONSE:—REGARDING THE HEAD-COSTUME OF THE DIFFERENT SEXES IN RELIGIOUS SERVICES, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Stanley well describes the intense religions significance of modes of dress in ancient times. In earlier Greece the length of the garment decided whether a man was an Ionian, with one set of gods and rites, or a Dorian, with another. But it was in the religious duties that the dress of the head possessed a marked import. The Jews, as Grotius says, were accustomed to perform the services of the temple with the head covered, assigning as a reason for the symbolic act that their unworthy eyes might not behold the majesty of God. This mode of reverence they transferred to the synagogue; so that, following Hebrew custom, St. Paul would have required men as well as women to worship with covered head. The ancient Greeks, on the contrary, sacrificed with bared heads. In ancient Italy, before the Roman age, the Greek custom prevailed; but AEneas, it is said, brought from Troy the custom of sacrificing with covered head; the assigned reason being, that the eyes of the man might not, in performing the holy rite, chance to fall upon any unholy or ill-omened object. This became the permanent custom for all ages of pagan Rome. So that Paul, rejecting the covered head of both Jerusalem and Rome, enjoined the bared head of Greece upon the males of the Corinthian Church. This uncovered head symbolized holy cheer and boldness before men in worship according to Christ. Hence Tertullian tells the Pagans, “We Christians pray with outspread hands, as harmless; with uncovered heads, as unashamed: without a prompter, as from the heart.” The custom prevalent in modern Europe, derived from the ancient Germanic races, of baring the head in reverence to a superior, though it is the idea most obvious to an American Christian, has no actual place here. That custom presupposed that princes and nobles, wearing a crown as symbol of rank, would retain it on the head on all occasions of etiquette, and require an inferior’s head, as a reverse symbol, to be bare of any cover whatever; so that the bared head and the bow of the head are now the universal symbols of deference.

Equally various, among different tribes and times, was and is the mode of wearing the hair. The ancient Greeks wore the hair long; and “flowing-haired Acheans” was one of the customary epithets applied to them by Homer. But in Paul’s time the hair was uniformly cut, except upon religious vows. The long hair of a male, done up in elaborate style, was a symbol of base effeminacy, belonging to men of prostituted manhood. The Burmese, both men and women, wear long hair, and the Chinese wear long hair braided into a pigtail.

It will be seen, perhaps, in the course of our notes, that Paul’s directions were based, partly upon symbolic reasons, temporary in their character, partly upon the natural sense of beauty, and partly upon fixed divine law. It is in this last case only that the direction is specially permanent in its nature; in the other cases the maxim might apply, “The rule ceases when the reason of the rule ceases.”


Verse 3

3. Head of every man—Of every Christian, says Grotius. Yet in the redemption Christ has a headship of the race. See notes on Romans 5:12-21. Here, however, as a harmonious ruling and obeyed headship is implied, Grotius’s limitation is correct. Of every man, by Paul addressed, the Head was Christ.

The headship of our Lord over the Christian man is a headship of divine authority, in which, however, when complete and perfect, the authority merges into a blessed spontaneity and concurrence of wills. Such is the apostle’s view of marriage, of which the union of Christ and his Church is the type. A divinely-constituted headship similarly belongs to the husband in the family; but the true idea of the family is a unity of love, in which the command is the expression of the common happiness, and obedience is a loving concurrence of wills. If the realization of the idea is seldom complete, that is true of all sublunary constitutions, arising from the jars of sin.

The man—That to the masculine side of humanity (as of all other living races of beings) belongs the force, the executive endowment, and the consequent headship, is plain to every eye that looks at male and female through all animated nature as they are created. It is shown in every quality of their respective human frames. Size of brain and body; strength of bone, fibre, and nerve; tendencies of instinct, feeling, and will; all proclaim that man should bear the brunt of the battle of life, and, therefore, must plan the campaign and order the particular manoeuvres. To talk of equality here contradicts God and nature. It is one of “the rights of woman,” as it is one of the instincts, to retire to the rear of the fight, and live under the protection of a stronger arm than her own. It is one of her “rights” to lean on that arm for aid, and to look to that head to plan for her well-being.

And to this it is the noblest instinct of man that responds. It is the thought of wife and children, rather than thought of self, that prompts the soldier to the fiercest bravery, or the labourer to his cruelest toil. He can bear any thing; but how subject the tender ones at home to hardship, disgrace, or disgusts. To win for her at home honour, ornament, and happiness, is the crown of his own enjoyments. The whole history of civilization shows that the robust thought and toil are man’s. The pyramids, the temples, the capitoliums, the city walls and towers, the aqueducts and bridges, the railways and telegraphs, are all the products of man’s hand and brain. The battles by him are fought, and by consequence to him belong (save in exceptional instances) the diplomacies, the senates, the cabinets, and the executive chairs. In short, to man belongs, by nature and by God, the national as well as the domestic rule. If in a free government woman should ever possess the right of suffrage, it would be (like her consent or her veto in accepting or rejecting an offered husband) rather the particular right to choose her ruler than a power to rule.


Verse 4

4. Every man praying… covered—Either from the Corinthian letter or the messengers that brought it, Paul learned that the Christian rule of worship was unsettled. Men following the Hebrew or Roman custom probably prayed with the head covered. Women, doubting what under the Christian system was the law for their sex, in what they perhaps considered Christian freedom removed the customary hood from their heads. The notion of Ruckart and others, that the motive of these uncovering women was to display their beauty, has not one syllable in the apostle’s rebuke or argument to sustain it. On the contrary, his whole force of reasoning goes to show that a proper subordination truly belongs to the female sex; and it is solely a questioning of this truth which his argument presupposes. It does not appear that any real disorders occurred. They were holy women endowed with spiritual gifts, who would need these directions from the higher authority of their founder apostle.

Paul gives caution to the men first here and in 1 Corinthians 11:7. The ancient commentators held that St. Paul wrote to check the men as well as the women; but later writers, as Ruckart, Alford, and Stanley, say that he refers to the men merely, in illustration of the case of the women. We hold that the former are clearly correct. As we have shown, different customs for men on this subject prevailed among the different nationalities and religions which were now promiscuously crowded into Corinth. Jewish and Roman converts would be predisposed to pray with heads covered, while the Greeks would uncover. The fact that Paul treats the case of woman so much more fully is because it was a question of propriety; and of the proprieties and refinements of life, woman, being the special guardian, needed to be very fully set right. From all this it is clear that St. Paul decides for the covered head, not from any divine command, or any immutable propriety, but because, in the existing state of customs, the covered head was the symbol of modesty. It is the modesty that is the permanent principle; the covered head is the transient expression of the principle.

Dishonoureth his head—Stanley makes head, here, possess a double reference, namely, to Christ and to the man’s own head. The latter, however, is doubtless Paul’s real meaning; the former can be brought in only by inference. Josephus says, “Izates, throwing himself to the earth, and dishonouring his head with ashes, fasted calling upon God.” To the Christian man belonged a triumphant, unblushing worship. Christ, his head, not being visibly present, there was no mere humanity before which it became him to cover. See note 1 Corinthians 11:7. In modern times men are uncovered in Christian worship in consequence of Paul’s rule, but not for his reason. It is now rather the uncovering of reverence for the Divine presence, or respect for the congregation or service, which a Jew expressed by putting off his sandals. To the universal modern Christian practice of bared heads in church, Stanley says that “Holland is the only exception. In Dutch congregations, men uncover their heads during the psalmody only.”


Verse 5

5. Every woman that prayeth… prophesieth—Grotius thus comments: “So in the Old Testament women were prophetesses, as Miriam, sister of Moses, Exodus 15:20; Deborah, Judges 4:1; Judges 4:5; the wife of Isaiah, Isaiah 8:3; Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14; so also in the New Testament, the daughters of Philip, Acts 21:9, and others. Such were accustomed also to expound the sacred prophecies publicly, as appears from the passages above quoted from the Old Testament. Wherefore Paul’s prohibition of women from performing the office of teaching, is to be understood with this exception, unless they have the special commandment of God.”

Wetstein says, similarly: “It was not permissible for women to teach or lead prayers in the congregation, (xiv, 34,) unless, for an exceptional reason and in a special manner, they were impelled to so doing by the Spirit of God. Acts 2:17; Acts 21:9; Luke 1:41-42; 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 2 Chronicles 35:15.” It is sometimes denied that any female prophet ever prophesied in public. But in Judges 4:4, Deborah is styled “a prophetess” who “judged”—that is, ruled—Israel in peace and led her army in war. Her “judgment,” (Judges 4:5,) her generalship, and her chant of triumph, were all public. Her judging itself was by divine mission and impulse; and so was, strictly, in the biblical sense, prophecy. Her chant was prophecy, for 1 Chronicles 25:1-3 shows that music and psalm came under the head of prophecy. It is ludicrous to suppose that it was in accordance with feminine modesty for Deborah to judge the people and command an army in public, but a violation of that virtue to utter a supernatural sentence in a religions assembly! Miriam’s rhythmical prophecy was uttered with timbrel before Israel’s whole camp. Huldah was installed in the prophetic college, and it was permitted her to teach a body of men sent to her by the king, including the high priest. These cases completely negative the doctrine that an inspired or gifted woman was unauthorized to speak in public. To make Paul forbid a woman’s public prophesying is to make him nullify some of the most striking facts of Old Testament history.

Both the above eminent commentators (with whom Wesley concurs) maintain that Paul in this passage assumes the right of women in the proper exceptional cases to pray or prophesy in the congregation, and maintain that in 1 Corinthians 14:34 he forbids the mass of women to interrupt the service with their noisy chatter. Alford, Stanley, and others, maintain that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:34, not only forbids the uncovered head in these services, but forbids the service by women at all. Thus Calvin is quoted as saying: “In here disapproving of the one, he does not approve of the other. Paul attends to one thing at a time.” But the “one thing” which this makes him “attend to” seems a very unwise “thing.” Why should he forbid praying uncovered when he condemns and prohibits their praying at all? Such a view vacates this whole paragraph of sense, rendering it so much blank paper. The Corinthian query clearly was, Ought women to have the head uncovered in their public prophesying? And St. Paul’s brief, plain answer should have been, There is to be no women’s public praying or prophesying at all. Prohibiting the incident permits the main thing. It assumes that if the incident is set right, the whole thing is right. Both Grotius and Wetstein hold that feminine prophecy is “for exceptional reason,” and by divine specialty. Hence it is often said that the female at the present day must, in her own case, in order to be accepted, be able to show an express divine authorization to prophesy or preach. To this, however, it may fairly be replied, that even the male prophet must individually profess to be “moved by the Holy Ghost,” to his office. Such a “call,” in either case, is not miraculous, but is supernatural and individual. In the case of the man, it is in accordance with the nature of man, and with the ordinary rule of Providence. In the case of the woman, it is less accordant with the feminine nature, and is more extraordinary and special; especially where it implies the exercise of authority over both sexes.

With her head uncovered—Before the gaze of masculinity it often is at once the modesty and the dignity of woman to vail herself. That unrestrained gaze is often profane; and it is a divine reserve that shrinks and conceals from it. In that reserve is contained even the proudest and noblest self-respect; so that under the forms of humiliation resides woman’s exaltation. Thereby she becomes, to man’s idea, a something sacred and imperial. Let her forfeit that ideal and she dethrones herself, and becomes an unlovely being. By most divine law each sex is confined to its own nature. It is equally shameful for manhood to become effeminate, and for womanhood to become masculine.

All one as if… shaven—One in shamefulness, for both are an unwarrantable exposure, but different in degree; for the former is a beginning and the latter is the consummation. The covering of the head as a sign of womanly modesty before man was a rigid point with the Jews. And noblest was the woman that carried it out most nobly. “The lady Kimhith bore seven sons, of whom each one attained the high priesthood. They inquired of her what she had done to accomplish so great a felicity. She replied: “At no time did ever the ceilings of my house behold the locks of my head.” — Quoted by Wetstein. Doubtless this, however, was but a sample of the tone of her character on all other points. This energy of self-control and severity of obedience to law is the very essence of a lofty moral nature. No wonder the woman of such a nature should give a line of high priests to the world; she is a born high priestess.

Of course the apostle at the present day would not consider the hood as possessing any religious significance. Women now sit or stand before men with heads uncovered, not only in the social circle, but in large assemblies; nor is it any religious obligation that requires her to wear a bonnet in church, or forbids her to speak or pray with bonnet off. And all this, when the letter of the apostle’s language condemns the uncovered head in the most explicit terms. But really, Paul condemned the uncovered female head of his day because it then expressed the moving of woman from her sphere, and suggested a dishonouring association, calculated to bring the purity of the Church into suspicion.


Verse 6

6. Let her be—Let her carry out the principle, and see where it will land her. This is, of course, not a real command; the imperative being simply a form of the argument.

Shorn—As with shears.

Shaven—As with a razor.

Be covered—The obvious impropriety alike of either of the three exposures brings to the conclusion that she should be covered. The shaving of the woman’s head assimilated her, in the existing state of customs, to the disreputable class. “The antiquaries and philologists,” says Bloomfield, “have proved that all the ancient nations agree in accounting this as the greatest dishonour and disparagement to the person of a woman.

Hence it was adopted only as a sign of extreme grief, (see Deuteronomy 21:12,) or was imposed as a mark of infamy and disgrace.” Even among the Germans, as Tacitus informs us, the penalty for the adulteress was to be expelled from her husband’s house with a shaven head. A Jewish commentator on the words “uncover the woman’s head,” (Numbers 5:18,) says: “For what reason? Because it is not the custom of Israelitish women to have their heads uncovered. Wherefore he shaves her and says, ‘Inasmuch as thou hast seceded from the manner of the Israelite women, whose custom it is to cover their heads, and hast followed the manners of the Gentiles, who are accustomed to go with the head shaven, lo! it happens to thee as thou hast willed.’”


Verse 7

7. Image and glory of God—As God is Lord of the universe, so man is authorized lord in the earth. Genesis 1:27. Hence, as having no visible superior in the world among the creatures of God, modesty never compels him to cover his head before any.

Woman… glory of… man—As emanating from himself, as he emanates from God, and as a beautiful and wonderful second self, just as he is God’s representative or finite second self on earth.


Verse 8

8. For—Explaining how woman is man’s glory. Of, or literally, from the man—Woman is, according to the Genesis history, derived from man, as the glory is radiated from the luminary.


Verse 9

9. Woman for… man—The narrative of Genesis, which derives woman from man, and makes her his feeble and tender yet necessary and mighty auxiliary, if it were not true in history, is true in philosophy and in nature. If man, directly and solely, accomplishes the splendid works of civilization above described, yet it is man with his help-meet for him. She is his complement; and both male and female form the one composite MAN, by which all is achieved. Woman works not directly upon these products; but she works upon him by whom they are directly wrought.


Verse 10

10. Power on her headPower to which she is subject, not power which is subjected to her. And by this abstract word εξουσια, power, Paul plainly designates the hood covering her head. it may be that this Greek word was the name of the hood; but there is no other instance of such a use of the term. Olshausen says, that in the Middle Ages imperium (a Latin word of the same meaning as this Greek) was certainly the name for a woman’s headdress. Similarly Diodorus Siculus says, that a certain queen “had three royalties (crowns) upon her head, to signify that she was daughter, wife, and mother of a king.”

Because of the angels—In whose presence the worship of the Church below often is. So 1 Timothy 5:21, “I charge thee… before the elect angels;” as if the angels witnessed the charge and would mark and testify how it was fulfilled. So angels desire to look into the mysteries of redemption, 1 Peter 1:12; and we are “a spectacle to angels, and to men.” 1 Corinthians 4:9. The expedients of commentators to avoid this beautiful meaning are many, but absurd and useless. They are completely given and disapproved by Stanley. The Jewish writers, both before and after Paul, carried out a similar idea to a puerile extent. Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai (quoted by Wetstein) says: “If the hair of a woman is uncovered, the evil spirits will come and sit upon her, and upon all in her house.” In a more Christian strain, Chrysostom says: “If you wish to see both martyrs and angels, open the eyes of your faith, and you shall behold the spectacle; for if the air is full of angels, much rather the Church.

For that all the air is full of angels hear what the apostle says, admonishing the women to have a vail upon their heads,” etc. Again, “If you despise men, at any rate reverence the angels.” Perfectly accordant with all this is Bengel’s beautiful thought, that as angels vail their faces before God, so would they require that the female face should vail before men.” Harmony and order should prevail in their angelic presence.


Verse 11

11. Neither… man… without the woman—Each is indispensable to the other. Neither can exist without the other. Each possesses what the other lacks.


Verse 12

12. Of, rather, from the man—By derivation from his side, according to Genesis.

By the woman—By natural birth.

But all things of God—By whom the sexes and their relations have been constituted.


Verse 13

13. In yourselves—Look into your own breasts and hearken to the dictates of your intuitive feelings. Man’s true nature affirms the truths of God.

Comely—Accordant with an inborn sense of propriety.


Verse 14

14. Nature itself teach—Our natural sense of beauty affirms that long and flowing hair (of the Caucasian woman, not of the African) is one of the permanent points of female attraction. To shear it diminishes woman’s beauty; to shave it off deforms her, for the naked scalp is ever and by nature a disagreeable object to the sight. On the other hand, for a man to imitate this beauty is effeminate and contemptible. And this effeminacy was especially exemplified by a class of infamous males guilty of unnatural basenesses. Note on Romans 1:24-25. Yet if nature—that is, the instinct of propriety—did teach that long hair was a shame to a man in Paul’s day, it equally taught the Homeric Greeks that it was a pride, and teaches the Chinese at the present day that a pigtail is a dignity to every male celestial. That is, the instinct varies its decisions according to circumstances, to customs and feelings of age and race, and to reasons derived from symbol and sign. Paul radically assumes that Christianity ratifies the authority of the instinct; but he gives the applications and decisions of the instinct as they suited his age and peoples.


Verse 15

15. A glory to her—And beauty is the rightful prerogative of womanhood, as force is that of manhood. And this divine gift of beauty it is her right to cultivate within the laws of modesty; and, united with cultured gifts of mind and character, it forms a loveliness which is the true source of her rightful power.

A covering—The apostle sees, even in the glory of the woman’s long hair, the symbol of concealment and of modesty. It is nature’s sign, suggesting, if it does not require, that art and custom should follow and add a covering to the female head.


Verse 16

16. Contentious—The whole question had, it seems, been a subject of Corinthian debate. Men, perhaps, maintained, that according to Jewish and Roman custom their heads should be uncovered in worship. Women, perhaps, maintained that Christ had emancipated woman from her reserve and subjection. The apostle replaces the law of propriety and of God in their proper authority.

Such custom—As these mistaken reformers would introduce.

Churches—The debate, probably, had scarce extended beyond Corinth. At least propriety and apostolic and churchly authority had elsewhere settled the question. The authority of the churches of God in this, the age of the gifted Church, was co-ordinate with the authority of the inspired apostles.


Verse 17

1. The Corinthian abuses of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:17-22.

17. This—Refers, we think, not to what precedes, (as Alford,) but to the paragraph now commencing.

Declare—Rather, enjoin. Alford says, that no injunction or command immediately follows; which is true: but all preceding 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, which is injunction, does but state the case upon which the injunction is based.

I praise you not—As he did in 1 Corinthians 11:2.

Come together—Assemble in congregation.

Worse—Result. Your assemblages do you more harm than good.


Verses 17-34

PAUL’S SEVENTH RESPONSE:—AS TO DISORDERS AT THE LORD’S SUPPER, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

The supper of our Lord the night of his betrayal was divisible into three parts: First, the proper passover service, according to the law of Moses; second, an ordinary meal for the natural satiation of hunger, according to custom; and, third, the eucharistic bread and wine which he then first established as a memorial of his death. Of course the first of the three disappeared at the commencement of Christianity, leaving the other two. Of these two the first became the agape, or love-feast; the last remained, forever, the Lord’s supper.

In Corinth the agape seems to have been slightly modified by two Grecian customs. One of these customs was the eranos, or symposium; a banquet to which the guests each brought a portion of the food and drink as in our modern picnic. A master of the feast was elected. Of course the most generous way was, for those best able to bring the most liberal amount, and then spread the whole on a common table for all. The second custom was the Grecian sacrificial feasts, in which an ample supply was furnished, and so moderately eaten that a rich remainder was left for the poor. While Paul remained at Corinth the best qualities of both these pagan customs were exhibited in the love-feasts of the Christians, with some Christian improvements.

Under the presiding presbyter the feast was opened with the washing of hands, and prayer; after which, the Scriptures were read and discussed.

Then fraternal intelligence was received and discussed from brother Churches, maintaining the mutual sympathy of the Christian republic. Hereby wants were learned and aid supplied for distressed Churches and individuals. Money was collected for widows, orphans, and the poor. The eucharist was probably performed at the last, closing with the kiss of charity.

After Paul left, a more heathenish spirit gained ascendency. The meals were divided into different sets, resulting in quarrelsome cliques; the rich, with their plentiful furnishings, arrogated the lion’s share, became gluttonous, and left nothing for the poor; so that an institution intended to promote union, equality, and charity, was perverted into a means of division, caste, and insult.

Paul’s rebuke upon the Church is divisible into three paragraphs. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 he states the report of their misconduct in regard to the Lord’s supper; in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 he reproduces to their recollection the historic foundation and nature of the supper; and in 1 Corinthians 11:28-34 he recalls them to the true reformation of their dealings with so sacred an institution.


Verse 18

18. First—But what is the second to this first? Clearly, as Alford shows, the paragraph upon the Lord’s supper (17-34) is the first, and the entire subject of spiritual gifts, beginning at the next chapter, is the second to it. And Alford’s showing on this point shows, also, that declare takes in the commencing paragraph.

Divisionsσχισματα, schisms. In modern ecclesiastical phraseology schisms are secessions from the Church; and heresies (next verse) are doctrines contrary to the belief of the Church. Such is not the apostle’s use of the words. By schisms here he means the separations in feeling produced by the sets and cliques at the Lord’s supper.

Partly—He believes some of the report, but cannot quite, in charity, believe the whole.


Verse 19

19. Must be—Not from God’s purpose, but from man’s perverseness. See note on Luke 17:1. See also Matthew 24:6; Matthew 26:54.

Heresies among you—See note on last verse. Heresies is derived from a verb signifying to choose, and refers to the wilfulness of Church partisanship. It now includes false doctrine, as being adopted rather by the perverse will of the heretic than by any good reason. Church factionists, as Grotius remarks, often concoct some special dogma in order to give permanence to their faction.

Approved—The divinely approved, upon test and trial. When commotion and secession prevail, the true sons of peace reveal themselves in calmness and firmness. In doctrines, also, error, by reaction, draws out investigation and defence on the side of truth, and renders its evidences more clear and the doctrine itself more defined. The creeds of the Church have thence arisen. They are attempts by the Church to state her doctrines in defence against disputers and gainsayers.


Verse 20

20. Not… supper—The performances they came to enact were truly no Lord’s supper at all, but a burlesque and dishonour upon it, being only their own supper. The possessive, Lord’s, is in the Greek an adjective for which we have no proper English word, as Lordic. So the Lordic supper and the Lordic day (Revelation 1:10) are parallel terms. And the word Church is generally derived from a similar Greek phrase, which might similarly be Lordic house. The Lord’s supper, though primitively associated with, was distinct from, the agape. It usually, but probably not always, succeeded the agape.


Verse 21

21. Every one—Each one. Instead of spreading a table for a common supper, each one made an own supper, of his own food, and preoccupied it entire. Thereby separate sets were established, and what was meant for union became disunion.

Hungry—He whom persecution had made poor was left hungry; so that what was meant for liberality became insult.

Drunken—At the symposium (which term was compounded of two Greek words, signifying a drink together) even Socrates was said not seldom to have appeared too vinous for a philosopher. The philosopher, therefore, sadly incurred the rebuke of the apostle. Paul, probably, uses as condemnatory a word as truth would allow. It does not necessarily follow from the word, yet it may have been, as Renan says, that some “went reeling from the table of the Lord.” The pagan Corinthians would doubtless consider the apostle as an extremist in temperance. Modern temperance reformers would, perhaps, think that Paul had better go further and prohibit the wine from the agape entirely; but the existence of more fiery liquors, like brandy and whisky, had not suggested the necessity of the law of entire abstinence for all persons from wine. Even now the law of abstinence from wine should be based not upon the intrinsic wickedness of a limited drinking of wine, but upon the obligation to abstain as part of a great reformatory enterprise, and as a prudential safeguard from moral danger. On the word drunken, see note on John 2:10. The antithesis to hungry would suggest that the opposite word would mean surfeited.


Verse 22

22. Houses—Homes. If you sink the sacred supper to a secular rank, let the eating be done in a secular place.

Despise ye—As too proud to eat in common with the commonalty.

The church of God—Said emphatically to remind them what this despised commonalty truly was.

Have not—Alford explains it, have not houses. But those who have not, is a phrase sometimes in Greek used for the poor. The poor and the rich are the have nots and the have alls.

Praise you not—And so emphatic a withholding of praise was a strong dispraise and rebuke.


Verse 23

23. Have received of the Lord—The question is raised whether Paul received from the Lord this narration by immediate revelation from Christ, or only mediately through the narration of eyewitnesses. Alford objects that in that case he would have said we rather than I. But he uses the first person singular as the founder-apostle of the Corinthian Church—I received… I delivered unto you. It is clear from these clauses that the Corinthians knew all this history, and that Paul is only calling it impressively to their recollection.

Night—It is wonderful that the large body of Christian brethren who maintain that the word baptize signifies solely immersion, and that the example of Christ demands immersion, do not also insist that deipnon, supper, signifies an evening meal, and that the example of Christ requires his supper to be taken at night. And yet this Christian body excludes from that eucharist, which they perform in violation of the meaning of the word and the original example, all those whom they hold to be baptized in violation of verbal meaning and example. With the same persistence, in the same logic in the former as in the latter case, they could prove that a right supper has seldom been performed since Christ died.

The same night—Full of pathos is the thought that we are re-enacting, the supper scene of the night before the crucifixion. It is an hour for weeping and not for revelry. It demands the purest, calmest thought, instead of the excitement of intoxication. Thought should go back to that solemn hour, should picture to the heart the agonizing scene, and melt us into contrition that our sins have their share in betraying and crucifying Him.


Verses 23-27

2. History and nature of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:23-27.

To show the Corinthians what it is they are thus dishonouring, Paul now, with a formal solemnity, repeats the well-known origin of the Lord’s supper.

As the Lord’s supper was a divine institute, and the agape purely a Christian rite, Paul’s history shows only the guilt of desecrating the former. The guilt accompanying the latter was the schisms and disorders produced, and which resulted in the desecration of the supper.


Verse 24

24. This and the following verse have so many phrases identical with Luke 22:19 as to show them to be the same tradition. In regard to the passover consult our note, Matthew 26:2 : in regard to the Lord’s supper, notes on Matthew 26:20-30. Yet it must be noted that this epistle and this passage may have been written before the gospel of Luke. Whether this is the earliest existing narrative of the Lord’s supper, as Stanley says, may he doubted. At any rate, we believe that the original Hebrew of Matthew’s gospel was written before this; and that the Greek Matthew is a translation of that document.

Given thanks—From this giving thanks, eucharistia, the Lord’s supper has been called the eucharist.

Brake—Note on Matthew 26:26. Matthew adds “and gave it to the disciples.”

Take—This, with the analogy of the head of the family at the passover, implies that an administrator of the elements, who would be an apostle or presbyter, is one of the essentials to a proper communion.

Body—See note on Matthew 26:26.

In remembrance of me—With the Christian individual this remembrance appeals to the heart, touching his feelings with thoughts of Him who spake these words to his own soul—the dying Jesus. With the Church and the world they are an appeal to the intellect to demonstrate the historical truth of Christianity. There are several lines of evidence that fasten the belief to the historical Christ, the existence of which cannot be accounted for except upon the truth of the New Testament history. The rite of baptism can be traced from the present time to John the Baptist. The Christian sabbath forms line from the present to the resurrection of Christ. The succession of Christian bishops carries us, even on the loosest theory, through the great Churches to the apostolic age. These various lines all verify each other: they converge in the Christ history; and no other origin can be assigned. Baptism indicates the beginning of Christ’s mission; the eucharist his death; the Sunday-sabbath his resurrection; the line of bishops, the historic Church.


Verse 26

26. As often—In some periods of the Church, daily communion has been the practice. But a wiser Christian custom is to consider it as more an extraordinary event than the Sabbath service. The monthly period preserves the medium between making it too ordinary and too unfrequent.

Bread—As the bread of the passover was appointed by God with a significant purpose to be unleavened, there was some show of reason for using such bread by the Roman Church, but no show of reason for the Greek and Roman Churches making the use a matter of fierce contention. As it is a matter of mere inference, fixed by no definition or command, the Protestant Churches (except the Lutheran) have considered it a matter of indifference.

Cup—See our note on Matthew 26:27.

Show—Literally, ye announce, as a messenger or herald, to the world. The act, with its surrounding circumstances and utterances, proclaims to the world Christ’s atoning death, and the believer’s acceptance of its avails.

Till he come— When the entire system of sublunary Church and probation will be closed. Thus the communion is a chain whose links connect the first and second advents of Christ. This corrects the error of the Quakers, who, aiming at too naked a spirituality, have rejected all ordinances, and have thus made their religion a soul without a body. It is, doubtless, owing to this cause that they are fading from existence as a Christian body. Neglecting the great injunction to show forth the Lord’s death, they have become (1 Corinthians 11:30) weak and sickly, and are apparently going to sleep.


Verse 27

27. Eat… and drink—The and, by the best readings, should be or. Alford thinks, apparently, that our translators have “unfairly” made it and to evade the Romish argument drawn from it in favour of withholding the cup from the laity. But the or does not aid the Romish practice. The or does make Paul say that dishonouring either one—the bread or the cup— renders guilty; but it does not, therefore, say that either one shall be withheld.

Guilty of the body—That is, it is the body and blood of Christ which he slights or insults. He is guilty, not of dishonouring mere bread and wine; he is guilty of dishonouring what they represent—Christ’s body and blood.


Verse 28

3. A reform of treatment of the Lord’s Supper enjoined, 1 Corinthians 11:28-34.

28. Examine himself—The strict meaning is, try himself by tests; such tests as his rectitude of life, his purity of thought, his zeal for Christ. So— Either with the approval of his conscience of his spiritual state, or with repentance where wrong.


Verse 29

29. Damnation—Not eternal perdition; but, literally, judgment. And that judgment Paul seems to have considered as likely to be inflicted upon the body of the Christian offender, as intimated in the next verse.

Discerning… body—Treating the elements as if they were mere bread and wine in disregard of their holy symbolism.


Verse 30

30. Weak and sickly… sleep—Commentators generally agree that Paul here ascribes a then prevalent sickliness and mortality in the Church to their desecration of the holy supper. That at a miraculous era the apostolic mind was given to know such to be the case might readily be conceded. The monstrous idea that disease and death were produced naturally by their excesses would imply that the apostolic excommunication was quite as much required as in the case of the fornicator. But the word sleep seems scarce the term the apostle would use of those dying by judgment of God.

It naturally expresses a peaceful repose. We are strongly inclined to prefer understanding Paul as declaring the judicial effect of their dishonouring the communion to be their becoming weakly, sickly, sleeping Christians.


Verse 31

31. We—Softening his rebukes by adopting the first person.

Judge ourselves—God has given us a judge within our breasts—our conscience—before whose bar, enlightened by Scripture and quickened by the Holy Spirit, we may arraign ourselves and regulate and shape our character. By that judgment we may forestall the divine judgment, and escape the divine condemnation.


Verse 32

32. We—Christians.

Are judged… chastened—Those divine earthly judgments which are wrathful punishments upon the wicked are discipline, severe blessings, to the righteous.

Not be condemned—The very purpose of these judgments to the Christian is mercy and salvation.

With the world—A sad assumption, therefore, that the world of that period was lying in wickedness and sinking to death.


Verse 33

33. Wherefore—In view of the corrective and saving power of these judgments.

Tarry—We do not understand the injunction to be to wait until the others had all arrived at the place of meeting. It does not appear that one could not come as early as the other. Nor does the discourteous taketh before of 1 Corinthians 11:21 refer to an earlier coming and eating before the others had appeared; but to the richer parties refusing to wait for a spreading of all the contributions before the whole company, and their hurrying to the consumption of their own supply. To tarry, or wait, therefore, would be a social, deliberate placing each share at the common disposal, as if all were one, and had an equal right, irrespective of the amount contributed. But Wordsworth, Bloomfield, and others render the Greek word for tarry, receive, entertain one another, by a free interchange of provisions. This is a usual meaning of the word, and is far to be preferred, as accordant with Paul’s unselfish and whole-hearted spirit of courtesy.


Verse 34

34. Hunger—The very name agape indicated that these love-feasts were for the cultivation of the affections, not the gratification of the appetite, or the sustenance of, at any rate, the well-off class.

The rest—Referring, doubtless, to other matters in regard to the good order of their assemblages contained in the letter of the Corinthians. From this passage Romanists argue in favour of traditional customs added by them to the institutes of the Church, and especially to the Lord’s supper: such as having a thin wafer for bread, withholding the cup from the laity, and the worshipping the wafer as the body of Christ. We may easily concede that the apostles did make regulations in the Church. If any institute can be shown to have been established by apostles for the universal Church, it must, doubtless, be accepted as part of the Christian system. But of most of the peculiarities of Rome we know the date of their origin, and reject them as innovations and novelties. We have known in our own day, in the Romish enactments of the immaculacy of the Virgin, and the infallibility of the pope, how dogmas are manufactured. And in the last dogma we find the amplest power provided for the pope to enact, with a sentence a new Christian doctrine whenever he pleases.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-corinthians-11.html. 1874-1909.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
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