Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians Living By Faith
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Price, Brad "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bpc/ 1-corinthians-11.html.
Price, Brad "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians". https://studylight.org/
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11:1: Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.
God’s word (the text of the Bible) is inspired, but the verse and chapter divisions in the Bible are not. These divisions were added by men to make the Bible easier to use. While most of the verse and chapter divisions are excellent and very helpful, there are exceptions such as the one here. This verse should probably be the conclusion to chapter 10 instead of the first verse in a new chapter. For another example of a bad division, see Luke 9:43 (the second half of this passage should be a new verse).
The word “imitators” (mimetes) is translated “followers” in the KJV and it has “ethical overtones” (CBL, GED, 4:200). Because of the grammatical construction in the original text (the present tense and the imperative mood), this is an on-going command (i.e. Christians are commanded to regularly act like Paul acted). This apostle wanted the Corinthians to learn about Christian living from what he wrote plus the lives of faithful brethren (compare 1 Corinthians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 16:1). Personal and congregational examples are worthy of imitation when they involve people who are truly following “Christ.” As Brown (1:491) noted, “Paul never intends to bind the demand for imitation to his own person (we do not become a “Paulite,” BP). It is always ultimately to the One whom he himself follows” because Paul was not perfect. Lenski (First Corinthians p. 428) noted how those “who imitate Christ have a right to call upon others to imitate them” and this is certainly what Paul did with the Corinthians. Part of our following Paul means doing all for God’s glory (10:31). If these Christians were willing to learn from Paul’s example as well as what he said in this letter, they would have realized it was wrong to create stumbling blocks for fellow Christians (10:32). Aside from here imitators is found only in 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 6:12; 1 Peter 3:13.
Knowing and following the pattern found in the New Testament:
Although Paul said first century Christians and congregations serve as a pattern for us to follow, some have ridiculed this idea. Some have asked, “Who are we to imitate? Should we follow the idolaters at Corinth? Since the Corinthians were involved with sexual sin, should this be the pattern we follow? Should we be like the drunks Paul described?” This verse clearly tells us who to follow-we follow men like Paul because he and others followed the Lord. If this apostle had not been obedient to Jesus, he would have been a “blind guide” (Matthew 15:14) and it would be wrong to follow his example.
God uses three different ways to tell us right from wrong and how to live the Christian life. One of these ways is found in Bible examples. Paul spoke of his personal example in this verse, but there are also congregational examples. Some Bible examples are positive (we need to emulate what is recorded) and other examples consist of things we are to avoid. A second way God teaches us what to do and what to avoid is found in “commands” or “direct statements.” Like examples, commands (direct statements) can also be positive or negative (compare Romans 12:9-21).
A third way God helps us know His will is “inference.” One or more verses may “imply” something and we use this information to “infer” (draw) a conclusion. We frequently use inference in life. For instance, if someone said, “All dogs are animals and Spot is a dog,” we would infer that Spot is an animal. God’s word calls on people to use inference and one example of this is found in Matthew 22:32 (God is said to be the “God of the living” instead of the “God of the dead”). If God is still ruling over the dead, we infer that “dead people” have not ceased to exist (they experience a separation from their earthly body, James 2:26, but this separation does not mean a cessation of life- Luke 16:22-26). Another example of inference is Hebrews 7:14. Since the Old Testament said priests had to come from the tribe of Levi, people correctly inferred that it was wrong for priests to come from other tribes. For more information on God’s commands, examples and inferences and the need to follow them, see this author’s commentary on Colossians 3:17 and Hebrews 8:5.
11:2b: and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.
At Corinth (and by implication elsewhere) Christians were to keep the “traditions” (paradosis) “delivered” to them by inspired men. Traditions is applied to different things in the New Testament, including Jewish traditions (Matthew 15:2-3). Paul used this term in Colossians 2:8 to say there are traditions of men. Here traditions means inspired information from God (this same meaning is applied to this same word in 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Traditions consist of information that “is handed down from generation to generation with an authoritative demand for compliance and is received accordingly” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:21). These traditions are the “Christian regulations pertaining to life and conduct” (ibid). Here as well as in the Thessalonian references, traditions (ordinances) means keeping the regulations taught by Paul and by implication the other New Testament writers. This single word tells us that Christianity has some rules, has commands and involves law. James described these traditions (what we now refer to as the New Testament) as the “perfect law of liberty” in James 1:25.
Another key term is the word delivered (paradidomi), a term meaning “pass on teaching and modes of conduct (for faithful observance)” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:20). When the word delivered is combined with traditions, we have a reference to God’s plan for the “church, to which every believer must submit” (Spicq, 3:18). Rather than let humanity decide and legislate what the church should be like, Jesus is the head of His church (Matthew 16:18) and we must follow the rules He has left us in the 27 books of the New Testament. We must follow His expressed will if we wish to be His “friends” (John 14:15; John 15:14). Virtually every aspect of Christian living, information about the church, heaven, hell, etc. is somehow addressed in the New Testament and this information is binding on all people.
What about Catholic traditions?
Catholicism has appealed to the latter part verse 2 as well as 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to say their religious traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation, are just as binding on people as the books of the New Testament. This author has studied with Catholics who actually elevated their traditions above the Scriptures.
Catholicism does indeed have many traditions, but as shown in the preceding material, this was not what Paul had in mind. In John 16:13 Jesus said the Holy Spirit would reveal “all the truth” to the apostles. Since the apostles all lived and died in the first century, Jesus’ promise about giving all the truth was fulfilled by the end of the first century. Jude also affirmed this fact when he said “the faith was delivered once for all” (Judges 1:3). The Bible says we are “complete” with the information given more than 2,000 years ago (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Catholic tradition came much later and it is literally too late-it came after God fulfilled the promise in John 16:13.
Because Catholic traditions came after the time of inspired men, all Catholic traditions are an addition to the Scriptures and stand condemned (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19). The traditions given by Paul and the other apostles were inspired and the traditions from the Catholic church are uninspired (compare Mark 7:13; Colossians 2:8). If a person accepts even a single Catholic tradition, he rejects the New Testament claim of God’s word making him complete by the gospel (2 Peter 1:3).
An introduction to the “headship principle” in 11:3:
In the midst of the head covering discussion we now come to an important word used twice in verse 3: Head. “The head is the topmost part of the body, where symbols of power, authority, and honor were displayed. Kings and priests were anointed on their heads, and this is where their crowns were placed (1 Samuel 10:1; 2 Samuel 1:10; 2 Kings 9:3; Psalms 21:3)” (Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, p. 326).
There is some disagreement on what “head” (kephale) means in this verse. Some authors understand head to mean “source.” As the head of a river refers to the source of the water, Jesus is viewed as the head (source) of all males and Adam was the head of Eve. Adam was formed of dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7) and the female race was begun from one of his ribs. A second view, which is preferred by this author, is that “head” implies a distinction in roles.
By saying “the head of the woman is the man,” Paul meant God intended for males to be the leaders, protectors, and heads in the world. It is not sinful for women to start a business, become a CEO, serve as a national leader, politician, etc. Neither is it wrong for a father to be a “stay at home dad.” God permits these kinds of things, but they do not reflect His ideal will for males and females. God’s model plan is for women to be guardians in the home (compare Titus 2:3-4; 1 Peter 3:1-5) and for males to be the leaders and protectors in society (compare In 1 Timothy 5:14). This point is even found in the Old Testament. Although God allowed Deborah to serve as a prophetess and judge (Judges 4:1-5), this was an exception instead of the rule. Men and women are equal in many ways (see the commentary on 11:3), but there is a God-given distinction in their roles and these roles are a definite part of “the doctrine of Christ” that we must “abide by” (2 John 1:9).
Paul’s appeal to the Father and the Son in 1 Corinthians 11:3:
Paul illustrated the “headship” described in the previous section by appealing to Jesus and His relationship to the Father, so it is important to have at least a basic understanding of the Godhead. The Bible refers to “God as the Father” and says He is the source of all things (James 1:17). We also find references to the “Son” and “Holy Spirit.” The Bible also says these three persons are perfectly united and although they are three, they are also one God (Deuteronomy 6:4).
Jesus affirmed this divine oneness in places like John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”). In this passage the “word for ‘one’ is the neuter hen, not the masculine heis: Jesus and His Father are not one person, as the masculine would suggest, for then the distinction between Jesus and God already introduced in (John, BP) 1:1b would be obliterated, and John could not refer to Jesus praying to his Father, being commissioned by and obedient to his Father, and so on. Rather, Jesus and his Father are perfectly one in action, in what they do: what Jesus does, the Father does, and vice versa” (Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 394).
The Godhead is a lot like light (compare 1 John 1:5). Light is composed of three primary colors (red, green and blue). If separated, these three colors are distinct. When combined, we perceive light to be a single color, just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a single deity.
The unity of the Godhead is illustrated in much of its work. For instance, Paul said salvation is from God (Philippians 1:28), we have fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:1), and we obtain righteousness through Christ (Philippians 3:9). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all work together in perfect harmony to help mankind. They are like three men who co-author a book, only all three equally contribute to the process and all three are in perfect harmony throughout the entire project. One man may spearhead the task, but all three are intricately involved in every part of the work (compare 1 Peter 1:2). God’s “book” primarily involves man and his redemption.
Many may think or speak of the Godhead as reflected in the following chart because we pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9), intercession is made to the Father, (1 Timothy 2:5), and the Father is spoken of as the source of all that exists (1 Corinthians 8:6). Since the Son (who is also deity) died for the sins of mankind, some may think of Him as pictured in the second box-He is sometimes regarded as being “underneath” the Father (compare John 6:38). We may think of or refer to the Holy Spirit last and perhaps somewhat isolated from the Father and Son because He revealed the plan of redemption (John 16:13-14).
Those who think of the Godhead as the Father first, Jesus second and the Holy Spirit third might be shocked to learn that the Father is usually not listed first in passages that mention all three members of the Godhead. Perhaps this point can be best demonstrated in chart form.
There are three members of the Godhead and each member is equal to the other two, though the roles for each member differ. We do not have a perfect illustration for the Godhead, but perhaps the following triangle will help illustrate the Godhead.
God the Father
God the Son
God the Holy Spirit
U.S. Supreme Court
Other writers have offered a similar chart, but they use the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. A second triangle illustration based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 may also help illustrate the Godhead:
God the Father
“works all things in all”
(1 Corinthians 12:6)
God the Son
“diversities of ministrations”
(1 Corinthians 12:5)
God the Holy Spirit
“diversities of gifts”
(1 Corinthians 12:4)
Based on what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 and what is expressed in the preceding graphic, we may offer this final illustration of the Godhead.
Whether we try to illustrate the Godhead with the government, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 or something else, the key points are that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all deity (Matthew 22:37; John 20:28; Acts 5:3-4), they do not work independently of each other, and they have taken on specific “roles” or various “tasks” to help mankind. If the Corinthians would have considered this point, they would have been able to understand that a similar thing was true for them: The males and females at this congregation were “both human beings,” but there were different roles for men and women and these roles had to be respected. For women, this meant head coverings were necessary because veils were a symbol (sign) of their role and their acceptance of that role. For more information on head coverings, see the information at the end of the commentary on 11:1.
An overview of the “head covering” (veil) issue:
Since Paul has discussed questions related to eating meat sacrificed to idols in the previous chapter, he is now ready for new material, some of which is difficult and controversial. The next four chapters may be divided into three sections: (1) 11:2-16-the wearing of the head covering (veil); (2) 11:17-34-problems pertaining to the Lord’s Supper; (3) 12:1-14:40-problems pertaining to spiritual gifts. We may not understand everything that took place at Corinth, but we can have a general understanding of this congregation’s problems and the corrective instructions given in these chapters.
Many commentators, including this one, believe some of the Corinthian women had taken the truth of Galatians 3:28 to an extreme (they had started or were interested in what might be called a woman’s liberation movement). Christian women at Corinth were not complying with their God given role or they were tempted to not follow it. One indication of their actual or possible rebellion against God’s plan for their lives involved a veil (head covering), so this subject (as well as God’s role for women) is discussed in this chapter.
In the Corinthians’ society veils were one means of differentiating between men and women. Veils also, just as long hair (verses 15-16), symbolized womanhood. If the Corinthian women refused to wear veils or had what was considered short hair, they rejected things their culture associated with femininity and implied they were not willing to follow God’s plan for womanhood (they were essentially making a declaration of insubordination).
Warren Wiersbe (First Corinthians, p. 603) aptly described part of the problem: “Eastern society at that time was very jealous over its women. Except for the temple prostitutes, the women wore long hair and, in public, wore a covering over their heads…For the Christian women in the church to appear in public without the covering, let alone to pray and share the Word, was both daring and blasphemous.” The Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (p. 326) offers similar information: “Required head coverings for women are an Eastern custom. A Middle Assyrian law required that all women except prostitutes and slaves be veiled. Jewish communities of the New Testament period were strict about this. The Mishnah (A.D. 250) held that failure to comply was grounds for divorce (Ketubin 7:6). A moral, unmarried woman even wore a veil in front of her parents. Removal of the veil was a sign of disgrace (3 Macc. 4:6). Philo of Alexandria indicated that this regularly worn covering was a symbol of modesty (Special Laws 3.56; Josephus Ant. 3.270). Women charged with adultery had this veil removed.”
Even now every culture has specific customs, one of which may involve males removing their hats. In the United States it used to be normal for men to remove their hats when the Pledge of Allegiance was said or the National Anthem was sung. Males have also traditionally removed their hats when attending worship. Men who refused to respect these cultural traditions were seen as disrespectful, just as the Corinthian women would have been regarded if they rejected the veils (verse 5) and men would have been disrespectful if they had worn a covering (verse 4).
Women have also been expected to observe some cultural practices, some of which are found in marriage. In many wedding ceremonies it has been customary for a bride to say she will “obey” her husband and the bride traditionally accepts her husband’s last name to show her recognition and acceptance of his authority (headship). Paul dramatically emphasized the need to observe customs such as the head coverings at Corinth by appealing to both the Godhead (11:3) and angels (11:10).
Today it is still very important to respect the customs in the culture where we live or work. This means we respect the way people talk, dress, think, etc. It is also necessary to live in such a way where males and females carry out their God given roles (i.e. men behave like men and women behave like women). This latter point is so important that it is even found in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 22:5 God said: “A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah thy God.” “The adoption of clothing of the opposite sex was forbidden because it obscured the distinction of the sexes and thus violated an essential part of the created order of life (Genesis 1:27)” (Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 301). Our culture may not always use the same symbols used by the Corinthians to distinguish males from females (i.e. head coverings and the length of hair), but there will always be established ways to distinguish males from females and these distinctions need to be observed.
The custom of wearing veils is also related to what Paul said at the end of the previous chapter (in 10:25-26 he spoke of buying food that may have been offered to idols). Paul said Christians could purchase this food if they “asked no questions.” If Christians asked shop owners about the origin of food, they would have been regarded as odd and probably gained a bad reputation among the unsaved-things the Corinthians church did not need. Paul knew Christianity was a new religion and it was important for saints to leave a good impression with the unsaved (compare Titus 2:5, “that the word of God be not blasphemed”). This is partly why he spoke of being “all things to all men” in 9:20, 22; 10:33. If the Corinthian women chose to stop wearing veils or opted for short hair (compare verse 15), they would not have been “all things to all people.” They would have violated local customs, offended outsiders, and very possibly offended fellow Christians (compare 10:29). Refusing to wear head coverings or follow other customs would have been “an occasion of stumbling” to others (10:32) so this chapter tells women to obey this cultural practice.
In the following verses Paul offered six arguments related to Christian women fulfilling and demonstrating their divine role, especially their role in the church. These arguments are: (1) Man has been made the head of the woman; (2) Being uncovered was equal to having the head shaven; (3) The order of creation proves that women are subject to men; (4) Women should be subject to men because of the angels; (5) Nature proved that women should be covered; (6) The general practice of the church demanded a covering.
Is it necessary for women to wear a “head covering” (veil) today?
While commentators and very sincere Bible students greatly differ on this question, there is some general agreement on two things. First, if God wants women to wear head coverings today, this is the only action in the New Testament that God does not fully explain. Second, no other book or passage in the New Testament deals with this issue and we have a limited amount of information in this chapter about women wearing a head covering (veil).
Some believe all Christian women in first century times were bound to wear a head covering and this obligation is still in force (i.e. today all women must wear a covering in church assembles). Those who take this view often differ on the specifics of what must be done. Some think a woman’s covering is her natural hair (this is a difficult explanation to defend, especially in view of verse 7. If a woman’s covering is her natural hair, and men are prohibited from wearing a covering-their natural hair-only bald men can approach God). Others think a literal covering must be worn (i.e. the natural hair is not enough so an additional covering must be added).
Those who believe in an artificial covering often disagree on what constitutes a covering. Some think almost anything on a woman’s head qualifies and others believe a woman’s head must be fully covered (for a discussion of what constitutes a covering, see the What was the head covering discussion located in the commentary on verse 4). A related view associates the head coverings with supernatural gifts. According to this explanation, the coverings were needed during the era of the spiritual gifts. Since the supernatural gifts ceased towards the end of the first century (see the commentary on 13:8-10), head coverings are no longer required.
The second major view about head coverings (and this is the one advocated by this author) is that veils were a well-established custom and this custom was to be respected and followed because it was an important part of the Corinthians’ culture. Stated another way, wearing a veil was like foot washing and “holy kisses” (1 Timothy 5:10; Romans 16:16). McGarvey (First Corinthians, p. 110) well said: “For Christians to introduce needless innovations (in this case abandoning the customary veil, BP) would be to add to the misconceptions which already subjected them to persecution. One who follows Christ will find himself conspicuously different from the world, without practicing any tricks of singularity.” Even now this principle is true (people who do not follow the customs of their society are regarded as bizarre and frequently become an object of derision). When cultural customs do not conflict with the Bible, they should be followed.
Reasons to believe head coverings (veils) were cultural:
Every explanation about the Corinthian head coverings has some difficulties associated with it. The view that head coverings were a well-established custom, however, seems to have fewest problems/objections. Also, there are indications in this chapter that Paul was speaking about a cultural belief instead of a divine command. For instance, he spoke of the shame borne by those who are shaven (verse 6). Since there is no Bible passage that forbids the shaving of a woman’s head, what was the basis for this disgrace? If it was not from God, it must have been society (culture). Furthermore, since Paul joins shame with the word veil (6b), both the disgrace and the veil seem to have been part of the Corinthians’ culture (way of life).
Paul said nature (phusis) offered some instructions about a woman’s covering (verses 14-15). Why appeal to nature if head coverings are a divine command and a perpetual obligation for Christian women? Appealing to nature is a possible Biblical argument to prove something (compare James 3:11 where James used nature to argue against improper speech), but this does not seem to be Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians 11:1-34 because he said women “ought” to have a head covering (verse 10).
The Greek language has a word for must (dei) and Paul used this term many times in his writings including this letter (11:19; 15:25, 53). When discussing the veil issue, however, inspiration led him to use a less forceful word meaning “ought.” When combined with the previous information, the bulk of the evidence, in this author’s judgment, favors the explanation that head coverings were part of the Corinthians’ culture. Finally, Paul speaks of “in the church” several times in this letter, including this chapter (11:18; 12:28; 14:19, 23, 28, 33, 34, 35). With the exception of verse 16, where he said, “we have no such custom,” the word church is never associated with the head covering. Thus, this author understands verse 16 to mean there was no church custom to wear the veil (i.e. head coverings were a part of society instead of a divine command).
A good summary of the opening information in this chapter as well as the head covering issue is given by MacKnight (p. 178): “From the things written in this chapter, and in chap. xiv. ver. 34, 35, 36. it appears that some of the Corinthian women on pretence of being inspired, had prayed and prophesied in the Christian assemblies as teachers; and while performing these offices, had cast off their veils, after the manner of the heathen priestesses in their ecstasies. These disorderly practices, the false teacher, it seems, had encouraged, ver. 16. from a desire to ingratiate himself with the female part of the Corinthian church. But the apostle’s adherents, sensible that it did not become the women to be teachers of the men, had restrained them. And this having occasioned disputes between the church and the faction, the church, in their letter, applied to the apostle for his decision. In answer, he first of all commended them for having held fast his traditions or ordinances concerning the public worship of God.”
11:3: 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.
God made mankind (Genesis 1:26-27) and He intended for males and females to have and fulfill specific roles, just as Jesus and the Father have and fulfill specific roles (see the preceding commentary on 2b). When men and women come together for worship (i.e. the assembly is mixed), males are to lead the worship (1 Timothy 2:11-15). Male leadership is also to be in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24). These two points are not just New Testament teachings; male leadership is based on the creation (1 Timothy 2:13). While males and females are virtually identical (equal) in most other ways, some of which including the following, God has given males the role of leadership in the home and in the church.
Some of the many ways males and females are equal (identical):
Ø Genesis 1:27 (Both are equal in status since both are in God’s image).
Ø Proverbs 31:1-31 (Women are equal to men as far as their intelligence and a wise development or use of resources).
Ø Matthew 15:28 (Both are equal in their ability to excel in faith).
Ø Matthew 19:4-5 (Both are equal in the range of human experiences).
Ø Acts 2:17-18 (Both have an equal amount of usefulness in God’s kingdom).
Ø Acts 5:14 (Both are equal in their ability to access salvation).
Ø Acts 16:14; Acts 18:1-3 (Both are to be equal in the opportunity to have a career).
Ø Romans 3:23 (Both are equal in their need for salvation).
Ø Romans 16:3-4 (Both are equal in their potential for bravery and or sacrifice).
Ø 1 Corinthians 7:4 (Both are equal in their rights for a sexual relationship in marriage).
Ø 1 Corinthians 7:16 (Both are equal in their power to convert an unbelieving mate).
Ø 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 (Both are equal in their innate self worth).
Ø Galatians 3:28 (Both are equally entitled to all spiritual blessings in Christ).
Ø Ephesians 6:1-2 (Both are equally deserving of receiving respect from their children).
Ø Philippians 4:3 (Both are equal in the “labor of love”).
Ø 1 Timothy 5:16 (Both are equal in their responsibility to honor parents).
Ø 2 Timothy 1:5; Ephesians 6:4 (Both are equal in their responsibility to teach young people).
Ø 1 Peter 3:7 (Both are equal partners in the eternal inheritance).
Instead of making Eve from a bone in Adam’s foot (an action suggestive of slavery and inferiority), or using part of Adam’s head to make Eve (an indication of female superiority), God used one of Adam’s ribs (this implies basic equality between the sexes plus male headship). Distinction between roles is not only found with males and females, it is found within the male and female genders. For instance, single men are not qualified to be elders (1 Timothy 3:1-2). New converts are not entitled to be elders (1 Timothy 3:6). Deacons are to be “proven” before they serve (1 Timothy 3:10), and deacons are to be married men with children (1 Timothy 3:12). The principles of headship and specific people having explicit roles are a regular part of our world. These things are also found in the church (males have a head-Jesus-and females have a head-males).
Women who want to act like men:
Since the time of Eve, there have been men who wanted to act like women and women who wanted to act like men. One intriguing example of this is found in some early American history. Before women were allowed to vote in the United States, Belva A. Lockwood (October 24, 1830 - May 19, 1917) ran for the U.S. Presidency. Although Lockwood was not part of a major political party, she (and other early female contenders for this position) sought an office that, at this time in history, was specifically associated with males.
A copy of the handbill used in her Presidential bid is on the next page. Permission was given to use this flyer in this book by the gracious curator (Louise D. Pittaway) at the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington, CT, but since this author’s copy of the handbill was not suitable for reproduction, the following image contains the exact wording from the poster and attempts to match the font type and size as closely as possibly to approximate the original document.
“The lords of creation men we call,
And they think they rule the whole;
But they’re much mistaken, after all,
For they’re under woman’s control!”
Women of Stonington, Arouse! __________________
THROW OFF THE YOKE
OF THE OPPRESSOR MAN.
ON MONDAY EVENING, NOVEMBER 5, 1888,
AT 8 P. M.,
MISS HANNAH LEE,
THE LONG TONGUED ORATOR
Will emit Impassioned Yawps at
In advocacy of the election of
TO THE PRESIDENTESSCY OF THE U.S.
BELVA A. LOCKWOOD WILL BE PRESENT.
THE BELVA A. LOCKWOOD QUARTETTE WILL FURNISH DISCORD
At 7 o’clock, preceding the address, the Belva A. Lockwood Club will make a Triumphal Parade that will Be Just Too Lovely For Anything. The Route will include the principal streets of the Borough.
After the Address a Grand Banquet will be tendered to the Club at MUSIC HALL.
Come One, Come All, and Bring Your Chewing Gum.
What about women and indirect authority?
There have been many cases (and preachers can usually attest to at least one instance) where women did not openly take a leadership role, but they did work indirectly or secretly to lead or direct things. In these cases we must recognize that indirect leadership is still leadership and it is certainly possible for Christian women to violate the information in verses 34-35 in this chapter by “working/leading behind the scenes.”
When men are mere figureheads for male leadership (i.e. women are setting the policies and making decisions), both males and females are guilty of sin. Males surrender their God-given leadership role and women accept or take what God has not entrusted to them. While we should not be surprised to find this type of activity among the unsaved, it should never be found within Christ’s church. Women can and should be an influence for good in their local congregation, just like all other faithful members, but they have no authority to directly or indirectly do things that have been assigned to males. A Christian woman who takes (appropriates) authority from males engages in the same type of sin the Corinthian women committed-a sin Paul strongly rebuked.
Christian women and “perceived leadership”:
If a woman is not directly or indirectly leading, may she assume duties that merely make her look like a leader? Is it wrong for a Christian woman to make announcements, read Scripture, or be one of the people that helps distribute the Communion? Some congregations have concluded that a woman cannot preach and pray in a worship assembly where men and women have come together (1 Timothy 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:12), but she can do everything else. Some have concluded that “Christian sisters pass Communion trays to those sitting next to them in worship, so they can also help distribute the Communion items to the entire congregation.”
As noted in the previous comments, leadership may be direct or indirect. Leadership also falls into the categories of “real or perceived” and we may demonstrate the point in this way. If a person makes a comment while sitting in a Bible class, there is no perception of leadership. If this same person makes the same comments while standing in a pulpit, there could or would be the perception of leadership. Such is also true for other activities in Christian assemblies-activities such as making announcements, publicly reading the Scriptures or standing up with others to pass the Communion (the actions fall into the category of perceived leadership). Stated another way, whoever helps in these kinds of ways leaves the impression that he has some type of leadership role in that worship service. For this reason Christian women should not engage in activities in mixed assemblies that would cause them to directly or indirectly be perceived as leaders. It may be going too far to say that a woman who helps pass the Communion items or make announcements is committing a definite sin, but these kinds of activities are extremely unwise, they set a bad precedent, and they are certainly not “expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23).
Consequences of rejecting male headship:
When men and women will not fulfill their respective roles, there will be problems. One illustration of this point is found in the opening pages of the Bible. A careful reading of Genesis 3:1-24 shows that Adam was “with” Eve when she sinned (Genesis 3:6), and Adam failed to fulfill his role as the leader of his family. In Genesis 3:17 we read: “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree…” Eve assumed a role she was not entitled to, Adam relinquished authority he should have exercised, and the end result was the loss of perfection.
Today, when God’s rules about headship, subjection, and the roles for men and women are not followed, families, congregations and nations will face numerous and serious problems. It is, therefore, imperative for Christians to observe the headship role for males in the home and in the church, even if the society they live in does not (compare Acts 5:29; 2 Timothy 4:2). Paul illustrated this need several times in the next chapter by appealing to the human body. Just as there must be “several parts” in a human body, and each part must carry out its respective task (1 Corinthians 12:14-20), so things will not go well in the world if people do not know and fulfill their respective roles.
Resistance to male leadership:
The world and even some religious groups have often opposed what the Bible says regarding the specific roles of men and women. In this author’s lifetime there was the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) of the 1970’s as well as various social experiments to diminish or erase gender differences. The world has tried numerous schemes to undermine or undo God’s plan for male leadership in the home and church (including the promotion of “gender neutral toys” for children), but all the world’s plans in this regard are earthly, sensual and devilish wisdom (James 3:15 and compare the commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:18-19). God says the rejection of His plan leads to confusion and evil (James 3:16) as well as eventual failure (compare Psalms 2:1-4).
When Christians hear nonbelievers say things like: “A woman can do anything a man does and often do it better,” “God’s plan for women makes them second class citizens,” or “Not having female preachers is discriminatory”,” they should recall verses like Romans 1:22 (“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”). Mixing the role of men and women is a way that may seem “right to man but the end thereof is destruction” (Proverbs 16:25). Even if a woman could be a better preacher than a man, Christians know that God has assigned this function to males and they must abide by God’s will (John 14:15). Christians also know and teach that women are not second class citizens. An old adage has been proven many, many times: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world” (compare 2 Timothy 1:5).
The abuse of male headship:
Some have attempted to dismiss or “re-think” God’s plan for male leadership because some women have been verbally or physically abused by men. What needs to be “re-thought” is how men are to treat women. A husband is to “cherish and nurture his wife as his own body (Ephesians 5:28). He may not deprive her of what she needs for her happiness and well-being (1 Corinthians 7:3). He must be understanding, considerate, and respectful of her as a joint heir of life (1 Peter 3:7). His love for her is more than physical. It must be the same kind of sacrificial love Christ has for the church” (Baker’s Theological Dictionary of the Bible, p. 327). When husbands treat their wives as the Bible describes (Ephesians 5:28), their wives will recognize and submit to the loving leadership given by their spouse (compare Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1-6).
Can a man rightfully renounce his divine role?
There are those who acknowledge that men have been given leadership in the home and the church, but believe men can renounce these roles (i.e. they can ask women to serve as church leaders or take responsibility for being the head of a home). A simple and complete response to this error is that we cannot give something we do not have. Men have not been invested with the right or authority to turn their leadership roles in the church and home over to women, so it is impossible for them to give these roles to women. Men may ask women to take these roles and women may accept these jobs, but the men who abdicate their leadership roles and the women who try to assume these functions are both guilty of sin. The Bible warns that people can “believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11), and this is precisely what happens when people think God allows men to pass off their leadership roles to women.
Ten Commandments for Husbands:
Hugo McCord, a wonderful preacher this author was privileged to hear several times before his death, once penned the following “Ten commandments for husbands.” When husbands behave in this manner, wives will have a strong desire to fulfill their divine role.
1. Thou shalt remember that thy wife is thy partner and not thy property.
2. Thou shalt hold thy wife’s love by the same means that thou won it.
3. Thou shalt enter thy house with cheerfulness.
4. Thou shalt not let anyone criticize thy wife and get away with it, neither thy father, nor thy mother, nor thy brothers, nor thy sisters, nor any other relative.
5. Thou shalt not take thy wife for granted.
6. Thou shalt not think thyself are “IT.”
7. Thou shalt not praise thy neighbor’s wife; praise thine own.
8. Thou shalt not keep any secrets from thy wife; secrets breed suspicion and wreck confidence.
9. Thou shalt not fail to kiss thy wife good-bye every morning.
10. Thou shalt not forget through all the years of thy life that thy wife whom God hath given thee is the queen in your home and in honor takes precedence over thee.
11:4b: having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.
If a man wore a covering when praying or prophesying (4a), his “head” (Jesus) would be “dishonored.” That is, a man who wore a head covering would be symbolically saying, “Jesus is not my only head. I have another head besides the Lord.” A man who prayed with his head covered symbolically dishonored “the source of his existence by obscuring that which was created in the image of God and designed to reflect that image to God’s glory (v. 7; Genesis 1:26)” (Baker Commentary on the Bible, p. 976). A similar thing was true for a woman (verse 5). If she refused to cover her physical head, she refused “to honor the source of her existence” (ibid). A man’s ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, so he “may pray to God in public but not dressed so that he shows allegiance to another, namely, with head covered. A woman may pray and prophesy in public if her dress shows submission to her husband’s authority (1 Corinthians 11:5-6)” (Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, p. 327). The cultural expectations for males and females did not violate any New Testament teaching, so Paul said the cultural expectations were to be followed. Tertullian wrote, “We Christians pray with outspread hands, as harmless; with uncovered heads, as unashamed, without a prompter, as from the heart.”
Dishonoreth (kataischuno) is a present tense verb that is also found in verses 5 and 22 of this chapter. Here Thayer (p. 331) defined it as “to dishonor, disgrace.” Gingrich and Danker (p. 410) defined it as “dishonor, disgrace, disfigure.” In verse 22 it describes disgracing fellow Christians (“shaming the poor at the Lord’s Supper,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:258).
This verse has caused some to ask about males and hats. For instance, is a man forbidden from wearing a hat when he prays? May a man wear a stocking cap during the winter months and pray while working outside? What about a construction worker who must wear a hard hat for his job? Must he remove his safety helmet before he prays?
While there are conscientious believers who think a male cannot ever wear a hat when he prays, this author contends, based on the preceding information, that Paul was dealing with a first century custom (head coverings symbolized subjection). This custom is not prevalent in Western culture and thus has no bearing on males and headgear. If the removal of a hat is a demonstration of respect in the culture where we live, then the principle in verse 4 tells us to observe that custom when praying. The removal of a hat at other customary times such as saying the Pledge of Allegiance is also taught by this passage.
What was the head covering (veil)?
Having his head covered meant “having something down from his head” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 438), but we are not told what this “something” is. Some believe Paul was referring to long hair (verse 14). If this view is correct, men were not allowed to have hair of the length normally worn by women. This author believes Paul described something that actually covered the head (i.e. it was an actual covering that was much more than a simple hat or cap), but we have too little information to draw any firm conclusions with just the information in verse 4.
We may have a better insight about ancient head coverings by comparing some of the words Paul used elsewhere in this chapter. For instance, in verses 6 and 7 of this chapter Paul used a word (katakalupto) that is translated “veiled.” Thayer (p. 331) said that from the time of the Greek poet Homer (about 900 B.C.) down veiled meant “to cover up.” In fact, veiled in verses 6 and 7 is a compound word. The first part of the term (kata) meant “down” and the remainder of the word (kalupto) meant “cover.” When combined, the two parts of this word form the idea of “cover down, over, completely, adequately.”
In the LXX veiled (katakalupto) is used in Numbers 4:5 to describe the covering of the ark with a curtain. It is also used in Isaiah 6:2 to describe the seraphim covering their faces and feet with their wings. A related form of this word (kalupto) is used in Matthew 8:24 to describe a ship covered with waves. This related term (kalupto) is also used to describe the covering of sins in James 5:20. Peter said love covers (same word-kalupto) a “multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). For the other places where kalupto (cover) occurs, see Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:16; Luke 23:30; 2 Corinthians 4:3.
Since this chapter describes a “covering,” a doily on the head or some type of hat is not consistent with the veils described in this chapter. If people believe a woman needs to be veiled, the head must truly and fully be covered. A woman would need to be veiled in such a way where people cannot see her head (the top of her body would be like a bride whose head is fully covered with a veil). Furthermore, as noted in the CBL (3:259), “For women to cover their head could not possibly have meant ‘to put up their hair,’ since its opposite would not have made good sense either, namely, that the men were not to put up their hair.”
The Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (p. 327) noted how “Rich Greek women would appear uncovered with elaborate hairstyles. Poorer Jewish women might feel such customs were done to attract men. This would eventually become a source of disunity. It is not surprising Paul introduces this passage by an exhortation not to offend Jew or Greek (10:32, BP). He offers himself as an example of one who tried to please everybody for the sake of their salvation (1 Corinthians 10:31-33; 1 Corinthians 11:1). He closes the passage by stating the churches of God repudiate practices that might cause contention (11:16).” This author contends one of these practices was the custom of women wearing a veil.
Head coverings (veils) and modern society:
In addition to condemning a “covering for men” (verse 4), Paul spoke about the need for women to have a covering (verses 5-16). Today, when the subject of head coverings is addressed, most of the emphasis is on women. In fact, women and head coverings have been a “hot topic” for many years. When this material was written, the author resided in an area heavily populated by members of the Amish and Mennonite religions and it was not uncommon to see women wearing bonnets/snoods/doilies (these items were also called “prayer veils”).
While some modern religious groups have said some type of covering is necessary, there is usually confusion on some specific points. For instance, when should females start wearing a head covering? The New Testament never tells us if the coverings mentioned in this chapter were a requirement for young girls, women who had reached a marriageable age, married women, women who had been baptized, etc. If the Corinthians wore these coverings because of their culture (the view maintained in this commentary), they knew when to start wearing the veils because this knowledge was part of their society.
Another question involves the duration of head coverings. Should the coverings be worn all the time, even to bed? Some women put the head covering on first thing in the morning and wear it until the end of the day. Others only wear it to worship. What does God require? If women refuse to wear the coverings, should they be disfellowshipped (2 Thessalonians 3:6)?
The preceding questions compel us to accept one of two choices. Option one is that God requires women to wear head coverings, but the specifics of when they must be worn, which women must wear them, and what to do if they are not worn are left up to individual or congregational judgment. This is a possibility, but this option seems unlikely. The Bible was constructed in such a way so we are “complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If head coverings are a required part of New Testament Christianity, this is the only requirement that is mentioned just one time and the only requirement about which we have almost no specific details. Requiring head coverings but not giving any specific information, or requiring head coverings and saying “we are allowed to work out the details,” leads to confusion and the Bible says this is not the way God works (1 Corinthians 14:33).
The second alternative is the one already expressed. Head coverings were a prevailing custom for women, so Paul discussed this subject but did not go into specific details because this information was a common part of this culture. For more information on reasons to believe head coverings were cultural, see the commentary at the end of the discussion on verse 1. For additional information on what these veils or head coverings were, see the commentary on verse 6.
11:5b: with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven.
In this part of the verse Paul again referred to a “head” (compare verses 3-4) and said this head could be “dishonored” (kataischuno). Dishonored is a present tense verb that is also used in verses 4 and 22 of this chapter. Thayer (p. 331) defined dishonored as “to dishonor, disgrace.” Gingrich and Danker (p. 410) said it means “dishonor, disgrace, disfigure.” In verse 22 it describes disgracing fellow Christians (“shaming the poor at the Lord’s Supper,” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:258).
There is some difficulty in determining exactly what Paul meant. For instance, exactly who was dishonored? Is Jesus the dishonored head? Is a woman’s husband the dishonored head? Did Paul mean that males in general are dishonored? If the dishonored head is a human male, what about unmarried women? Did single women dishonor men in general if they did not wear a veil? Also, if the Corinthians had multiple assemblies (see the comments on 5a), might they have dishonored more than one head-perhaps Jesus and their husbands/men in general? We have no clear answers to these questions, but one thing is apparent. Women were to wear a head covering because this item of clothing symbolized their acceptance of their divine role Refusing to wear a covering was a disgrace-a shame that could have easily extended to Jesus, a woman’s husband, a woman’s physical family, and the entire church.
Failing to comply with the veil custom was so serious Paul used the word “shaven” (xurao) at the end of this verse. This is a perfect tense verb and it is only found here, verse 6, and Acts 21:24. Prior to the New Testament shaven described the cutting of hair or the shaving of a person’s beard or body. Other forms of this word mean “barber” (xuretes) and “razor” (xuron). Here shaven describes a shaved head.
Since we cannot find a passage anywhere in the Bible that condemns the shaving of a woman’s head, and Jesus said religious practices come from “heaven or men” (Matthew 21:25), the shame from a woman’s shaven head must have been “from men” (the Corinthian culture). In fact, rather than condemn the shaving of a woman’s head, the Scriptures actually approve of this practice (see Deuteronomy 21:11 b-13). According to these Old Testament verses, soldiers could marry a foreign captive a month after shaving her head. Men were told to shave the heads of a “beautiful woman” (Deuteronomy 21:11 a), apparently, to decrease the attractiveness of their future bride (lessening a woman’s attractiveness would have allowed men to truly focus on whether or not they really wanted to marry a foreign captive).
Some think (and this author agrees) that a woman’s head was shaved in first century times to indicate she had committed adultery or was a prostitute. Certainly in more modern times shaved heads have symbolized female disgrace and punishment. After World War Two thousands of European women had their heads shaved in front of cheering crowds and were paraded through the streets as punishment for their association with Nazis during the war. Today western culture sees almost nothing wrong with women having short (“shaven”) hair. In fact, it is very ironic that some religious groups insist on women having a head covering, but they do not insist on a woman having “long hair” (verse 15).
The Corinthian society, just like our society, had cultural expectations for men and women. Since veils symbolized respect, order and decency, Paul said women were to wear them. Since women with shaved heads (short hair) were associated with a lack of decency, no Christian woman would have wanted a shaved head. Other times and cultures have had different beliefs. In fact, prior to the first century era there was a time when veils (head coverings) were associated with prostitutes (Genesis 38:14-15)-a custom that was the exact opposite of the Corinthian culture. Today Christians need to know and follow their culture’s laws and customs as fully as possible unless those customs and laws violate God’s will (compare 1 Corinthians 9:20-22). Failing to live in this way will usually bring “dishonor” to God, the church, our physical family, and ourselves. We do not want to do anything that limits or destroys our Christian influence.
11:6: For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.
This verse contains an argument and it is an argument based on consistency. Verse 5 says women who refused to be veiled (covered) were like women with shaved heads (i.e. immoral women). Here Paul added to that thought: If women refused to wear veils (this is expressed with the present tense tense-if they would not continually wear veils), they should be “shorn” (keiro).
Shorn meant more than a haircut. It described taking off as much hair as possible (in Acts 8:32 this word describes the shearing of sheep). Thayer (p. 343) defined shorn as “shearing or cutting short the hair of the head.” At the end of this verse Paul also used the word “shaven” (xurao), the same term found in verse 5. This second word also described the removal of hair. It can be defined as “shave, shear, be shaved.” Cutting off most or all of one’s hair is one thing; shaving a person’s head is even more noticeable.
As noted in the commentary on 5b, the Corinthian culture associated a woman’s shaved head with a lack of respect, order, decency, and perhaps adultery and prostitution. Since women who refused to wear a veil symbolized their rejection of what society and God expected from them, Paul said these women should get their heads shaved. Just as a military officer would be dishonored if he were stripped of his rank and military decorations, so women are dishonored if they turn from their divine role.
The rejection of a head covering was so outlandish this act almost seems to be an expression of “mannishness,” a quality some women still want to reflect. Here Paul seems to have been saying, “If you want to act like a man, go all the way. Cut your hair so you also look like a man. If you want to show your disdain for womanhood and God’s plan for your life, cut off all your hair.” This point is expressed with the word “also.” Chrysostrom expressed the thought this way: “If she flings away the covering provided by Divine ordinance, let her also fling away the covering provided by nature.” Paul’s statement, of course, was “tongue in cheek” (the point is somewhat sarcastic and certainly figurative). The end of this verse says it is a “shame” (aischros) for a woman to make this choice, just as it would be wrong for a male to wear a head covering (7a).
Shame is only found here; 14:35; Ephesians 5:12; Titus 1:1 (“filthy”). It meant “ugly, shameful, base” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 25). Thayer (p. 17) defined it as “base, dishonorable.” Brown (3:564) defined it as “a disgrace.” Thoughtful Christian women would have immediately realized the significance of Paul’s words and been motivated to wear the coverings expected by their culture.
The need for men to act like males and Christian women to act like females is similar to Deuteronomy 22:5, a passage where God said it was an “abomination” for men to wear a woman’s clothes or a woman to wear a man’s clothes. This activity confused the roles of males and females and the Corinthians (at least the women) were doing a similar thing. Today we will have to face a similar battle at times. There are still people, some of whom are transvestites (“cross-dressers”), who are not satisfied with their gender. All need to know that God has distinctive roles for males and females. The world may often try to blur the distinctions associated with gender (manhood may be classified as oppressive and unenlightened and the distinctions between males and females are seen as merely physiological), but Christians are to know and teach the truth on this subject. Some males and females sometimes do things that are associated with their opposite gender, but in general there should be a clear distinction between men and women.
The word veiled (katakalupto) is found only three times in the New Testament (twice in this verse and once in verse 7). While the exact nature of this veil is difficult to describe, as noted in the commentary on verse 4b, a woman’s face and perhaps some of her body were covered. In his entry on “cover” W.E. Vine said veiled meant “to cover up.” MacKnight (pp. 179-180) wrote: “The veil used by the eastern women was so large as to cover a great part of their body. This appears from Ruth’s veil, which held six measures of barley, Ruth iii. 15. A veil of this sort, called a plaid, was worn not long ago by women in Scotland.” Today women who wear a hat or something similar and believe they have a “veil” or “covering” may feel like they are abiding by the instructions in this chapter, but they are incorrect. A hat-or a doily-is not the type of headgear described in this chapter.
11:7: 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.
Men were to refrain from wearing a head covering for the reason in verse 4 (“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head”) as well as the reason here: Males are in the “image and glory of God.” If a man covered himself, he would “hide the ‘image and glory of God.’ Man is the pinnacle of creation and should reveal God’s glory. Therefore, there should be no outward sign of subordination when a man worships” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 397). For information on the word ought, which is less forceful than must, see the commentary on 10a. For information about men and “hats,” see the commentary on 4b.
This verse contains a contrast. Paul said a “man” (aner-a specific word for males) is in the image and glory of God, but “the woman” is “the glory of the man” (i.e. women are not specifically said to be made in God’s image). This statement must be interpreted in view of Genesis 1:27, a passage that says males and females were both made “in the image of God.” The key to harmonizing Genesis 1:1-31 and 1 Corinthians 11:1-34 is the method in which males and females were made. Adam was formed from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), but Eve was created from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-23). A little later in this chapter Paul said women were created “of” (from) man (verse 8) and “for” man (verse 9).
The “creation difference” described in Genesis tells us there are differences between males and females (1 Peter 3:7), God recognizes these differences, He expects humanity to recognize these differences, and the greatest thing to ever come from the male species is the female gender. Women are “the glory of the man.” “Woman, in her right, stands in a position, singular in nature, to the man and therefore is ‘the glory of the man.’ This affords her a high position and at the same time protects man’s place. Faith, purity, and beauty show most excellently and proportionately in her. The man who degrades a woman degrades his manhood” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 397).
What is said here in verse 7 corresponds to verse 3. In this previous verse Paul said males have Jesus as their head and females have males as their head. When men accept and submit to God’s authority and plan for their lives, they fulfill their divine roles. Women who accept and submit to their divine role (and at Corinth this included wearing head coverings) are the glory of men. What is said in this verse reminds readers of the word “helpmeets” in Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:20. Women are true helpmeets. One commentator (Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 1:130) said the male race “needs the help of his mate in every way, from the propagating of his kind down through the scale of his varied activities” if he hopes “to achieve his objectives in life.”
Helpmeet in Genesis 2:1-25 denotes agreeing to or corresponding to man; women are the counterpart to males. A woman “is the kind of help man needs, agreeing with him mentally, physically, spiritually” (Leupold, 1:130). Rather than being unequal, inferior or merely his “significant other” and “companion,” the Bible teaches that females compliment and complete the human species. We might compare men and women to kings and queens. Men have a lofty place in God’s plan, so they are like kings. Women also have a lofty role, so they are like queens. Both are very important to God, but there are some areas wherein they differ.
Women have been given certain functions that relate only to them (childbirth and the ability to nurse are two examples). Most women also typically excel at “multi-tasking” and nurturing (compare Genesis 3:16). Some have even described women as “domestically superior.” In many cases women do better with deep and meaningful communication. Males also have their respective roles (leaders in the church and home-11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:12) and society functions best when men and women know and fulfill their divine roles. Since wearing a head covering at Corinth indicated that women had males as their head and they were willing to accept and fulfill their role, Paul told the Christian women to wear veils. He did not want these Christian women (or men) to unnecessarily reject an important custom and thus leave a bad impression about the Christian faith (compare Philippians 2:15-16).
The word image (eikon) is applied to different things in the New Testament. Mark (12:16) used this term to describe the image of an emperor on a Roman coin. Paul associated this same word with idols in Romans 1:23 and Adam’s descendents in1 Cor. 15:49. Spicq (1:416-417) said image in 1 Corinthians 11:7 means man “has a nature akin to God’s (Genesis 9:6), like a son begotten by his father. This is clearly a term of honor: man is crowned with glory…He is sharply distinguished from the animals created before him; he rules the earth, probably because of his faculties of intelligence and volition.” “In distinction from woman, man, created directly by God, reflects the supreme authority of his Creator and does not have to veil his face when he addresses him” (ibid, p. 416).
11:8-9: For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: 9 for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man:
Contrary to the various claims made by evolutionists, these verses affirm that humanity was “created.” Also, the male species did not originate from the female race (women exist because of a male-Adam). God created a single male (Adam) from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), but there was not a suitable helper for him (Genesis 2:20). Man needed a counterpart (see the comments on “helpmeet” in verse 7), so God created a perfect companion for him (a female named Eve). Instead of being formed from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:21-22), Eve was literally formed from Adam and then “brought to him” (Genesis 2:22 b). These creation details further explain why women are the glory of men (7b). “To ignore or discredit this arrangement of God is to invite problems” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 399).
In the 9th verse Paul said males were not created to benefit females. As noted in the comments on verse 7, Adam needed a helper; without a mate he was incomplete. Since animals could not fully meet his need for love and companionship, and Adam could not populate the earth without a human female (Genesis 1:28), God made a woman “of” Adam (verse 8) and “for” him (verse 9). The first couple was “Adam and Eve” instead of “Adam and Steve.” By doing things in this way God permanently established the equality of men and women, but He gave each gender different roles (men have the role of leadership). Men and women may not always follow God’s divine pattern due to things such as divorce (see Matthew 19:9), polygamy, homosexuality, and “living together” outside the bonds of marriage, but God’s plan is clear (Matthew 19:4-6) and it was given early. This pattern was established before the first children were born, before the first culture existed, before the first nation was formed, and before the first worship service. God gave man the best plan and it will work if it is followed.
God also, though this point is not explicitly made here, ensured that males are dependent upon women and women are dependent upon men. Stated another way, God did not design either gender to live independently of each other. While we do find instances of people remaining single in life, and this is acceptable to God (1 Corinthians 7:34), heaven’s general plan for mankind is a man and woman coming together in marriage and being “one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).
The word created (ktizo) in verse 9 is applied exclusively to God’s creative work. This term is applied to “meats” (animals) in 1 Timothy 4:3 and the new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:10). Since this word is used to describe males and females in this verse, it is one more indication that God was directly and personally involved with the creation process (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:27). Man did not come into existence by time, chance, or evolution.
11:10b: because of the angels.
There are many explanations for the “angels.” Some believe Paul was thinking of evil angels that rebelled against God and were punished (Judges 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). According to this view, evil angels served as a reminder to the Corinthians. Just as we have a warning based on “Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32), so these Christians were to learn a lesson from the rebellious angels. If Christians refused to follow the information in verses 4 and 6, they would be punished just as disobedient angels had been punished.
A second interpretation is based upon the idea that angels watch some things that happen on the earth. It seems some earthly activities serve as a type of “school” for angels (compare Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:10-12). If the women at Corinth did not wear veils, even if no men were present, angels would see them acting in non-feminine ways (i.e. not wearing a head covering), but still expecting God to accept their worship, let them have and use spiritual gifts, and answer their prayers. Christian women who refused to wear head coverings were in essence “teaching angels” by their actions and their instruction was very bad (compare James 3:1). Because the rejection of veils signified things such as rebellion, Paul strenuously urged the Corinthian women to abide by their cultural expectations (wear veils). This explanation is the interpretation accepted by this author, and if it is correct, it suggests angels are troubled by examples of irreverence and a failure to follow any of God’s commandments. It also suggests that angels are able to witness some of our worship (compare Luke 15:10 and 1 Corinthians 4:9).
Other explanations about the angels are far-fetched and very unlikely. One view that hardly bears mentioning is that women who failed to wear head coverings would cause angels to lust after them. This idea is based on the incorrect interpretation of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-2. Some think evil angels previously desired and married human females and they may still have an attraction to or a lust for human females. If an uncovered female head incites angels to lust, what about women daily dressing and undressing (total nudity)?
Another poor explanation says women have “guardian angels” and their personal guardians were offended if they did not have a head covering. As noted in the commentary on Matthew 18:10 (section 23 of the Gospels commentary), the idea of a personal guardian angel is not based on the Bible. If there are guardian angels, from what do they protect us? Is it death? Illness? Persecution? Serious injury? Financial or job loss?
As shown in the preceding comments for this part of the verse, it seems best to regard angels as watching what takes place on the earth and especially in the church. In fact, the word “watchers” is actually applied to angels (Daniel 4:13; Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:23). Angels seem to have some ability to watch men and women obey or disobey God’s will and they must have witnessed many interesting things at the Corinthian congregation. Today, if angels watch us or the place where we worship, what are they seeing?
11:11-12: Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.
Since Paul spoke about the distinctive roles of males and females in the preceding verses, some may have been thinking males are superior to females. Here Paul specifically said men (males) are not any better than women (females). In fact, men and women are actually dependent upon one another. Men cannot survive without women and women cannot survive without men. Male leadership and headship is certainly part of God’s plan (verse 3), but this is not a basis for arrogance, dictatorship, or abuse of women. Male leadership is something to be recognized and carried out in a loving and mature way (Ephesians 5:25-33; 1 Peter 3:7).
Paul said this information is “in the Lord” (11b). That is, men and women are dependent on each other because this is how God arranged things. God did not intend for males to dominate females or men to treat women as second-class citizens. There is equality between the sexes and each gender has some specific responsibilities (see again the commentary on verse 3). When people fail to follow God’s blueprint for humanity, the end results are confusion and sin.
The information in verse 12 repeats and emphasizes the point made in verse 11. Women exist because of a male (Adam). However, males exist because of women (it is through them that the male species continues to be born). Even Jesus had to be “born of woman” (Galatians 4:4). “God could, indeed, have created both man and woman, Adam and Eve, in one undivided act. Today many think and act as though God had really done so. But the fact is otherwise. Nor should we think and say that at this late date God’s creative act, which lies far back in time, makes no difference. The facts of creation abide forever. They can be ignored without resultant loss or harm as little as can other facts of nature” (Lenski, First Corinthians, pp. 443-444). God has tied the sexes together in such a way that they cannot survive without each other.
Even though there are various attempts to thwart God’s plan (convents, advancements in reproductive technology, and various feminist movements), Scripture says men and women need each other and the prepositions in the Greek text are especially illustrative of this fact. Women are “of” (from, out of, by means of) the man (the Living Bible, a paraphrase, says “came out of man”). This preposition (ek) denotes “the material from which something is made” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:403). Paul also said men come “by” (dia) or “through” women (the Living Bible says, “all men have been born from women ever since”). Based on this information the CBL (First Corinthians, p. 399) rightly concluded, “The woman is subordinate but not inferior. In the higher things, ‘in the Lord’ and in faith, man and woman exist in partnership and equality.” Robertson (4:161) said in the Lord was where “Paul finds the solution of all problems.” This is true and we should find our solutions to problems in the Lord as well.
The remaining thought in verse 12 is found at the end of the verse: “all things are of God.” This statement gives males another reason to avoid pride and arrogance. Men did not create women. Since God created both sexes, males have absolutely no right to look down upon women, treat them as inferior, or demean them. Jesus was subject to the Father but not inferior (verse 3) and a wife’s subjection to her husband (Ephesians 5:22) does not mean she is inferior.
11:13: Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?
The Corinthians knew what veils symbolized in their society. They understood that females have come from males instead of males coming from females (verses 7-9, 11-12) and that women were to respect and demonstrate this fact by wearing the type of head covering expected by their society. In view of what the Corinthians knew, Paul said they could “judge” the head covering issue. All they had to do was ask if it was “seemly for “a woman to pray unto God unveiled.” “By these words Paul did not encourage the Corinthians to ignore his instructions. Rather, he meant that they should not blindly obey his directives. They were to think through the issue” (Holman, 7:187). It was time for the members of this congregation to use some common sense. Women were approaching God through prayer as well as prophesy (verse 5), and Paul wanted them to ask themselves to consider what was proper. Was it right to show as much respect and obedience to God as possible, or was it right to show as little respect and obedience as possible? Too, if these Christian women went without veils, other people in their culture would see them. What type of example would this set for others (compare Philippians 2:15-16)? Paul expected the Corinthians to answer, “No, going without a head covering is not proper” and this problem would be resolved.
Seemly (prepo) is translated “comely” in the KJV. This term meant that which corresponds with propriety or decorum. Although the Greek language has words to “express necessity and obligation” (Brown, 2:668), here Paul used a word that meant what was “proper and appropriate” (ibid). By using this less forceful word Paul asked the Corinthians what was the proper way to act in their circumstances. Was it right for the Corinthian women to cast off their veils? The NKJV translates this: “Is it proper?”
If these Christians were willing to consider what type of behavior was dictated by their culture, they would know what was and was not appropriate when it came to head coverings. Today we may use this same standard for this same question. If our culture does not regard a head covering as a “proper” item for women, Christian women have no obligation to wear one. If women are in a culture where a head covering is expected, they should wear one and abide by that local custom. Paul followed this same basic principle in his evangelistic work (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Unveiled (akatakaluptos) is only used here and verse 5. Several translations (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, RSV) render it uncovered. Brown (2:212) defined it as “unveiled.” If a woman was unveiled in a public meeting when her voice was uttering “the deepest impressions and the holiest emotions of adoration and love…a feeling of holy modesty ought to constrain her to secure herself from every indiscreet and profane look’” (Beacon Bible Commentary, 8:416).
11:14-15: Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
Paul used the preceding verses to say Christian women at Corinth should wear a head covering. His reasons for this included the fact that head coverings were an expected part of this society (verse 13), they offered appropriate instruction to angels (verse 10), they demonstrated that ladies respected and were abiding by their proper role (verses 7-12), and they prevented women from dishonoring their head (verse 5). Now we come to a final reason for the Corinthian women to wear a covering. “Nature” (phusis) should have indicated the need for women to wear a head covering.
Nature means “native conviction or knowledge, as opposed to what is learned by instruction and accomplished or prescribed by law” (Thayer, p. 660). Unless there are special circumstances (combine the end of this verse with Numbers 6:5), nature teaches us some things about men and women. For instance, nature teaches women to have “long hair” (verse 15) and men to have short hair (verse 14). As nature teaches human beings about hair length, it should have also taught the Corinthian women about head coverings (i.e. a woman’s head should be covered). Women should have a covering and here Paul affirmed that ladies do have a covering. God has “given” (didomi) females a natural covering (long hair). Since given is a perfect tense and passive voice verb, it seems Paul was thinking about the creation. Eve likely had long hair and this female quality has continued throughout time because it is part of the divine design. As discussed in the commentary prior to verse 16, the Corinthians also used an artificial covering.
“Long” (komao) occurs only two times in the New Testament-once in verse 14 and then again in verse 15. Outside the New Testament this term described long hair on people, animals, plants and trees. Rienecker and Rogers (p. 424) said long described “the hairdo which was neatly held in place by means of ribbon or lace. What is required by these verses is an orderly hairdress which distinguishes a woman from a man.”
Paul was not necessarily speaking about hair length and certainly not the exact length of a person’s hair. We have no authority to legislate what is long hair and what is short hair for men or women. We can make a general judgment on what is proper for men and women in this regard, just as some businesses have often made this type of determination for health and safety reasons, but these judgments are always somewhat subjective and often influenced by culture.
If someone lives in a society where males shave their heads and most women have chin-cut hairstyles, long hair in that culture begins at the chin. In other cultures, a chin-length hairstyle for women would be seen as short. Too, hair is typically cut to different lengths on various areas of the head. If someone were to try and legislate what is long and short, would we check the longest part of a person’s hair, the shortest part of their hair, or an average of all the various lengths?
Paul did not say men with long hair are guilty of “sin.” There is a specific word for sin, but Paul did not use this term. He said men with long hair are guilty of “dishonor” (“shame,” KJV). This term (atimia) has a wide range of meanings; here it means “social ‘embarrassment’” (CBL, GED, 1:483) or “a disgrace” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 120). Instead of violating a New Testament commandment, Paul spoke of disgrace and embarrassment. Long hair for women and short hair for men, just like the veils, helped distinguish men from women so this practice should have been followed. Based on this information it is doubtful that the paintings of Jesus (which often portray Him as having long hair) are accurate.
During the 1960’s there was strong disagreement among Bible believing people concerning the proper length of human hair. In some cases congregations divided or nearly split because of questions involving hair length and head coverings. Most of the controversy concerned the length of a male’s hair (little was said concerning women having “short” hair). Since all discussions about the length of hair are subjective (it is nearly impossible to quantify long and short), this was an unnecessary and sinful controversy. What happened during this time period is a good illustration of 2 Timothy 2:23: “But foolish and ignorant questionings refuse, knowing that they gender strifes.”
In verse 15 Paul turned his attention to women. He said a woman’s hair is a “covering” (peribolaion) that brings her “glory.” Women should be proud of their natural covering (hair) because it is God given and it is one means of demonstrating their special place in God’s plan. Because the hair is such a visible part of the body, many women spend a lot of time on it. Others spend a lot of money on their hair (1 Timothy 2:9) because they know that hair often increases or decreases their attractiveness to others, especially men, who are visually oriented creatures.
While some women delight in having long hair, others, due to their age, health, having small children (shorter hair is beneficial to some mothers), choose a shorter hairstyle. Hairstyle choice can also be influenced by a woman’s activities as well as her genetic makeup (some are unable to grow long, healthy hair). Some women actually lose their hair for various reasons; in these cases a woman is not “less of a woman” or less feminine. Just as women can be saved if they never bear a child (1 Timothy 2:15), so a bald woman can still demonstrate her special place in God’s kingdom. If no men are present, a woman is still the “glory of the man” (verse 7). If a woman lacks this natural covering, hair is still the glory of her gender. If a woman does not have her natural hair, there are other ways she can demonstrate her womanly beauty (compare 1 Peter 3:3).
Spicq (1:368) defined glory (doxa) as “beauty and splendor.” The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (1:345) defined it as “Esteem, honor.” While the New Testament emphasizes a woman’s inward beauty (1 Peter 3:3-4), God has also given women some wonderful physical attributes, one of which is hair. It seems a woman’s hair is a glory to others as well as herself. The significance of a woman’s hair is indicated in many ways. A man may not notice many things that his wife or another woman does, but he will often notice a change in woman’s hair color or style. Women also know the value and power of their hair and frequently express this by wanting something they cannot have. According to a beautician I once spoke with, women with straight hair often want curly hair. A woman with thick hair would like thin hair, etc. The beautician’s exact comment to me was, “Women always want what they cannot have” when it comes to hair. If a woman must have all her hair removed because of a mishap or for health reasons, most agree it would be a very traumatic experience. The glory of a woman’s hair is also demonstrated by two events in Jesus’ life (Luke 7:38; Luke 7:44; John 12:3). Women took their “glory” (hair) and used it to wipe Jesus’ feet-an expression of love, service and humility.
If ladies live in a society where women are not expected to wear a covering, their natural hair serves as a covering and an artificial covering is unnecessary. Some cultures expect women to also wear an artificial covering and this practice should be followed in these places. Also, when a woman is in a society that expects a covering, ladies should be grateful for this additional item of clothing because it further demonstrates their special place in God’s kingdom. Whether natural or artificial, both coverings in this chapter should have been a great source of satisfaction and joy to the Corinthian women.
Two coverings are described in this chapter (long hair and veils), but some writers have concluded there is only one (i.e. natural hair). One problem with this view is that Paul used two different words to describe a covering. In verses 6-7 he used the word katakalupto. Here in verse 15 he used a different term (peribolaion). This latter word is found only here and Hebrews 1:12 where it is translated “mantle” or “vesture” (KJV). Using two different words for covering in this one chapter suggests Paul had in mind two different coverings.
In addition to using a different word for covering, there is also the information in verse 6. There Paul said if a woman was not “veiled” (covered), she should be “shorn.” If a woman’s hair is her covering, and she is “not wearing her covering” (i.e. her hair is gone), how can she also be “shorn?” Stated another way, if the covering is the hair, and the hair (covering) is removed, what is left to be cut (shorn)? Paul’s argument in verse 6 was that a woman should wear both coverings (her natural hair and an artificial covering) or neglect both and suffer the disgrace associated with this choice. Finally, if the hair is the covering, and a man was to be uncovered lest he avoid “dishonoring his head” (verse 4), would not this mean that only bald men were able to pray and prophesy at Corinth?
11:16: But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
The previous verses show why the veils were to be worn by the Corinthian women (they indicated women were fulfilling their divine role). Paul must have realized that in spite of his best arguments (including the one based on angels-verse 10), some members of this congregation would be tempted to be “contentious” about this matter. Contentious (philoneikos) is found only found here in the New Testament. Thayer (p. 654) defined it as “fond of strife.” Brown (2:550) defined it as “quarrelsome.” After introducing the idea of strife Paul added, “we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” The word translated “custom” (sunetheia) occurs only three times in the New Testament (here, 1 Corinthians 8:7; John 18:39). It meant: “An established custom, usage, or habit.”
Commentators do not agree on how to relate the word custom to the discussion about head coverings. One wrong explanation is that there was no “custom” to “engage in strife.” Stated another way, these Christians had no authority or right to create friction about veils. This point is undoubtedly true, but this is not what Paul meant because the word contentious is a masculine adjective in the nominative case and the word custom is a feminine noun in the accusative case. If these words belonged together, there would be grammatical agreement in both gender (masculine/ feminine) and case (nominative/accusative). Since there is no agreement, custom and contention do not belong together.
A second explanation says the Corinthian culture had a “custom” about wearing head coverings, but this practice was not associated with any New Testament commandment (i.e. neither we nor the churches of God have a divine command for all women about head coverings). This explanation is consistent with this author’s preceding explanation of the head covering issue and it may be what is meant in this verse (see again the comments on verse 13). There was no need to be contentious over a cultural practice that helped Christian women be a good influence in their society and reflect their God-given role.
If this second view is correct, we might illustrate it with the color red, a color often associated with prostitution (compare Joshua 2:1; Joshua 2:18). During the 1940’s and 1950’s red porch lights were used to indicate places of prostitution. There is no custom in the churches of God when it comes to having porch lights or using red light bulbs. If, however, the color red would symbolize some type of immorality in the culture where we live (just like going without a veil had a negative connotation in the Corinthians’ culture), Christians should avoid the color red.
Other commentators take a different view which is succinctly given in the CBL (First Corinthians, p. 401): “Paul seems to be saying, ‘We have no such custom as women praying or prophesying with head uncovered.’ Paul appealed to universal custom and to the fact that this was the habit in the Christian churches. To adopt another view would suggest that Paul was doing away with what he had just spend 15 verses asserting.” If the CBL view is correct, it does not mean all women are still obligated to wear a head covering. This is well demonstrated by the following points which have been drawn from Allen (First Corinthians, p. 137).
Ø When a command is directed to a cultural situation that no longer exists, the command is no longer binding. The cultural situation that an unveiled woman was equal to a lady with a shorn head (11:5) no longer exists. Thus, the teaching concerning veils can no longer be bound.
Ø The veil was once a sign of authority (11:10), but this is no longer true.
Ø The veil is no longer an expression of propriety and decency (11:5-6).
Ø The failure to wear a veil no longer dishonors a woman’s head (11:5).
Ø Paul specifically joined the wearing of veils with supernatural activity (verse 5). Since the supernatural gifts are gone (see the commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:10), this regulation no longer applies (i.e. women are no longer obligated to be covered).
At the very end of this verse Paul referred to the “churches of God.” Church (ekklesia) meant “the called out ones.” Christians have been called out of darkness, ignorance, superstition, religious error, etc. (compare 1 Peter 2:9). In Classical Greek, church was used almost exclusively for political gatherings. In the New Testament the word church is “employed in the following ways: (a) It is used of the people of God universally, equivalent to the ‘one body’ (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18). (b) Ekklesia could signify the Lord’s people in a certain region (Acts 9:31). (c) The term can embody a congregation of saints in a particular city (1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 1:4). (d) It may refer to gathering of Christians in an assembled meeting (1 Corinthians 14:34; 3 John 1:10)” (Jackson, Bible Words and Theological Terms Made Easy, p. 31). “There is no sanction in the Scriptures for the modern scheme of varying denominational churches. This very system militates against the work of Christ (see John 17:20-21)” (ibid).
Fred Amick (Hearing For Eternity, 1:76) well noted how the church “is that body of believers who have been immersed into Christ (Galatians 3:27); who wear only the name of Christ; who believe and teach only his doctrine; and who obey only his commandments. ‘And he (Christ) is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church’ (Colossians 1:18). In Ephesians 5:23-24, we learn that Christ is the head of the church, the savior of the body, and the church is to be subject to him in every thing. The saved people are all in his body (Acts 2:47). The church of the Lord is that called out body of believers who are completely subject to Jesus Christ in everything they do and teach (Colossians 3:17). They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, body, soul and spirit.” For more information on the churches of Christ or the churches of God, see the commentary on Romans 16:14-16 and “An overview of New Testament Christianity” at the end of this commentary.
11:17: But in giving you this charge, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better but for the worse.
The KJV uses the word “declare” in 17a while the ASV uses “charge.” The original term (parangello) is a present tense verb and a very forceful word (it usually has the sense of an authoritative command. In secular Greek charge was used of orders military commanders passed down to their subordinates. See how this same term is used in Acts 16:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Timothy 6:17). As Brown (1:341) noted, “Apostolic authority lay behind the directions for the behavior of women in worship, the exhortations to Christians to behave respectably in the eyes of the pagan world, to work in peace and to eat their own bread.” “Regardless of whether it is in the form of written or oral instruction, the apostle expected that the church would comply with them” (ibid). “The problem Paul now turned to was a glaring fault that had to be corrected. He did so with authority” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 401).
It is interesting to contrast the strong language used here and the lack of strong language in the previous discussion of women and head coverings. The change in tone is one more indication that the “churches of God having no such custom” (verse 16) means veils were a part of cultural practice that was to be respected and followed instead of a divine command for all women and all time.
At the end of verse 17 Paul spoke of another matter that frustrated him. Instead of these Christians coming together for the “better” (kreitton), Paul said their gatherings (assemblies for worship) were for the “worse.” The word better meant “more advantageous” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:316). “An assembly of believers ought always to be progressing for the better” (Bengel, 2:227), but the Corinthians were not doing this. “Their meetings and the Lord’s Supper were a desecration” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 403). The word worse (hetton) can be linked with verse 34. The problems with the Lord’s Supper were so bad they justified “judgment.” Several other church problems are listed in between this verse and 14:40, so the Lord’s Supper was not the only issue. When we consider all the problems the Corinthians had, we find this church was not a place that excelled in peace, love and harmony.
The end of verse 17 reminds us that, in our assemblies, Christians should come together for the better, but sometimes our assemblies may be for the worse. There can be cases when Christians are hurt and discouraged by things at the place where they worship. At Corinth some were even being sued by fellow saints (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). This congregation was in a state of crisis, but Paul hoped things could be corrected. Such is still possible if Christians today will identify the problems that exist in the place where they worship and all appropriate parties will repent.
11:18: For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it.
When someone says “first of all” we normally expect him to have a second point. There is no clear second point in this chapter and this has caused some to wonder if something is missing. It is possible that Paul just wanted to discuss one subject. Or, the additional material may be the information in verse 34. A third and perhaps better possibility is that the “second thing” was the problem of spiritual gifts introduced in 12:1. We regard chapter 12 as a separate chapter, but the Bible was originally written without chapter and verse distinctions (uninspired men added chapter and verse divisions to make passages easier to find).
In this verse Paul was more specific about the Corinthian assemblies. He said, “when you come together in the church.” Come together (sunerchomai) is a present tense verb that is defined in the commentary on verse 17. Among you often describes Christians coming together for worship (1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 14:25; 1 Corinthians 15:12; Colossians 4:16) and this is the proper sense in this verse. Also, “‘When ye come together’ indicted repeated occurrence. The trouble was chronic. A contentious spirit was consistently present” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 403).
The word church (ekklesia) describes the saved (Christians), not a physical building (see how this word is used in Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17). This term has already been discussed in the commentary on verse 16, but here we may add that the church is also described as the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) and God’s “family” (Galatians 3:26). The church is a place where Christians can find encouragement, instruction and fellowship (Galatians 6:1-2). Jesus purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28) and will one day return for its members (1 Thessalonians 4:17) as well as the unsaved (John 5:28-29). Paul called the church the “body” (Ephesians 1:22-23) and then said there is only “one body” (Ephesians 4:4). People do not enter into this one body (church) by joining it. Rather, Jesus personally adds people to it when they obey the gospel (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47 KJV).
When these Christians came together for worship there were “divisions” (schisma). This term, which is also found in 1:10 and 12:25, was sometimes used to describe a tear in a piece of material. Jesus used this word in Mark 2:21 (“rent”) to describe the tearing of wineskins. In secular Greek divisions sometimes described “‘ploughing’ (rending the ground)” (Brown, 3:543). Here as well as 1:10 the word refers to cliques (Brown, 3:544). Paul had been able to “hear” (present tense) about the divisions.
The end of verse 18 provides us with an important example. Paul had received reports about the division at Corinth, but he did not believe things were as bad as some had reported. Paul wanted to give these Christians the benefit of the doubt and be completely fair (compare 13:7). He was willing to make a judgment, but he wanted it to be “righteous” (John 7:24). He certainly knew there were some problems (“I partly believe it”), but he wanted to believe the best about these Christians and he spoke to these Christians in a way that combined grace, truth, justice and love. He would not condone what was wrong, but neither would he overreact. His attitude typifies the word “gentle” (epieikes) in 1 Timothy 3:2. Such a person is not “trigger happy” (Barclay, First Timothy, p. 947). “A man of God must be characterized by Christian love and restraint” (Beacon Bible Commentary, 9:581).
11:19: For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.
The word translated “must” (dei) described logical necessity. It is like saying a triangle must have three sides. Must indicates the factions at Corinth were part of master plan designed by God. Must means this congregation (and presumably all other congregations) must have problems.
We might like to think that a congregation would always be a place of peace and harmony, but the sad truth is that every place where we worship will have issues. In fact, in virtually any environment where people are together (including marriage) there will be some degree of conflict. Here Paul described the conflict as “factions” (the KJV says “heresies”). Thayer (p. 16) defined factions (hairesis) as “dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims.” Turner (p. 212) defined this word as “‘obstinate persistence in self-opinionated views contrary to revealed truth.’” Factions is described as a “work of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20 and Peter spoke of “destructive heresies” (same word) in 2 Peter 2:1.
Most do not enjoy conflict and problems (especially in the church), but here Paul said these things can serve a useful purpose. Difficult times allow faithful children of God to be “approved” (dokimos); this word described metals that were tested for authenticity and then “approved” as pure, genuine, etc. The NIV seems to capture the thought pretty well with this rendering: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” In other words, difficult times prove (demonstrate) a Christian’s faith. “Just as fire burns away the dross to reveal the pure, Paul reasoned that the Corinthian problem did produce one favorable result. It was now easier to distinguish the false from the true (cf. 1 John 2:19)” (Gromacki, p. 140). Those who refused to take part in the sinful division showed their true commitment to Jesus as well as a proper understanding of congregational unity.
James also dealt with this same basic subject in his letter. In the first chapter (see James 1:12) James not only uses the same word translated approved, he said those who are approved “will receive the crown of life.” Trials are a wonderful tool to prove that Christians really are faithful to the God they claim to serve. In James 5:11 we are told that Job was “patient” (i.e. he endured very difficult circumstances) and his endurance was rewarded. A similar thing was also true for the Old Testament prophets (James 5:10); many of these men were killed, but their faith was proven to be genuine.
Here in 1 Corinthians 11:19 we are challenged to stay faithful in the face of strong adversity. Problems will come just as persecution will (2 Timothy 3:12) and our enduring these times establishes that our faith is truly real. Those who do not endure (compare Mark 4:15-19) prove they are not worthy of eternity with God. Sometimes we show our approval by simply accepting and following God’s word. A time eventually comes when a faithful Christian’s faith and faithfulness are “manifest” (phaneros) to others. Manifest may be defined as “to come to light,” “to become known” (Kittel, 9:3).
Paul did not specifically tell us what factions he had in mind, but the following verses indicate they involved the Lord’s Supper. Christians were having something like church potlucks and not everyone was being included in this activity (verses 21-22, 33). It is also possible that some were also not being allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps wealthy members brought what was necessary for the Communion and consumed the bread and fruit of the vine before poorer members arrived (poorer Christians may have been slaves and thus lacked the freedom to control when they arrived at the worship service). Social status (the rich pitted against the poor) could have interfered with sharing. Members had different spiritual gifts and this may have been a significant part of the division (12:14-25). While it “is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error” (Allen, First Corinthians, p. 139), the Corinthians were divided and divided by error and strife.
11:20b: it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper:
While the Lord’s Supper is a mandated part of the weekly Sunday service (this point is discussed below), Paul said it was “not possible” for the Corinthians to partake of this memorial (the KJV says, “this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper”). The problem was not a lack of supplies, a lack of participation or even a lack of knowledge. Rather, these Christians had a “supper” but it was not the Lord’s Supper. It was impossible to observe the Lord’s Supper (i.e. have God’s approval for this part of the service) because of various sins, one of which is found in verse 19 (“factions”).
Although these Christians assembled together every Sunday and brought the supplies for the Lord’s Supper, they failed to separate the Communion from the potluck food. They may have also refused to share the Lord’s Supper (and perhaps the potluck food) with all the worshippers (read verses 20-21 in the ASV and ignore the verse division). Verse 20 says these Christians were selfish in attitude and verse 21 says they were selfish in action (their rudeness is also implied by Paul’s discussion about love in chapter 13). Modern congregations may not suffer from these same exact problems, but Christians can still be selfish, rude and childish. Christians have fought over what color of carpet should be in the church building, who should be in charge of what activities, and what time services should start and stop. Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians also rebukes modern selfishness, immaturity and unloving behavior.
Today it is also possible for people to eat the Lord’s Supper but not eat it with God’s approval. We fail to acceptably partake of the Lord’s Supper if we use the wrong day for worship (a day other than Sunday), if we use the wrong items (the bread and the fruit of the vine are replaced with something else), if we partake of the Communion on an occasion other than Sunday worship, and if we have the wrong attitude (compare verse 27). The force of this point is brought out quite well in the ASV: “it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper.” This rendering is much stronger than the KJV and Lenski (First Corinthians, p. 458) described the KJV rendering as “incorrect.” He said the proper sense of the thought is “it is impossible” (ibid).
This author once worked with a man who regarded Christmas as the time of Jesus’ birth and his family wanted to honor the Lord on this day. This homage involved making a birthday cake for the Lord and singing “Happy Birthday” to the Son of God. Although this family surely had good intentions, Jesus said those who truly love Him will obey His word (John 14:15; John 15:14). This loving obedience includes obeying God’s rules for the Lord’s Supper. We may think God is pleased with our ideas, but the Bible warns us that our ideas and ways are not always consistent with God’s will and ways. When our ideas about worship are not consistent with the Bible, and we proceed with them anyway, God says we engage in “will-worship” and our worship is rejected (Colossians 2:23).
When Paul spoke of the Communion he spoke of the “Lord’s” (kuriakos) Supper. Lord is a special term that is found only here and Revelation 1:10, and it meant “belonging to the Lord” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:382). While the New Testament only uses this word twice, this term is found in secular Greek. Outside the New Testament Lord meant “belonging to the emperor” (Spicq, 2:338); it was used to describe the day on which the Emperor’s birthday was celebrated (ibid). In the 7th century A.D. this unique term was used on a tomb inscription which read: “‘God’s servant fell asleep at the tenth hour, at the dawning of the Lord’s Day, the day of the resurrection of Christ’” (Spicq, 2:340). There is a special day to honor Jesus (Sunday), this day comes once a week, and on this special day there is special feast to “remember” the Son of God-the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).
If the book of Revelation was written about 40 years after this letter as many believe, John’s use of the word Lord in Revelation 1:10 shows that this special word was still a commonly accepted term nearly six decades after the church was established in Acts 2:1-47.
It is a sad but true fact that millions know the right day on which to worship, but they have never been taught the truth about the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians should have been properly honoring Jesus week after week with the Communion, but they were failing in this regard and Paul strongly reproved them. We must learn from and not repeat the mistakes of the Corinthians if we want to please God. To help people achieve this goal the following questions and answers are offered on the subjects of Sunday (the proper day for worship) and the Lord’s Supper.
Is Sunday the specified meeting time for Christians? During the Old Testament era one of the Ten Commandments obligated people to “remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8). This commandment was limited to the Jews (Exodus 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:15) and it involved a small geographical area. When Jesus instituted the New Testament, the Sabbath commandment and all the other parts of the Old Testament law were removed (2 Corinthians 3:14). Under the New Testament system people honor God on the “first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Sunday is the “Lord’s day,” this day comes once a week, and God expects us to worship on this weekly day. We may demonstrate this point with Acts 20:7: “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight.” If this verse read, “at evening Christians came together,” this would imply a daily meeting. If the text said, “on the 20th day of the month,” that would imply a monthly meeting. If Luke had said, “during the quarter,” that would imply a quarterly meeting. If Luke had written, “On the 7th day of the 8th month,” that would imply a yearly meeting. The first day of the week implies a weekly meeting.
Our evidence for a required weekly Sunday assembly perfectly harmonizes with Mark 16:9 (Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday) and John 20:19 (Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples on a Sunday after His resurrection). Sunday worship also agrees with various historical sources. In his book on church history Mattox (p. 51) said, “The New Testament Church met on the first day of the week for public worship. The assemblies were in general held in private houses. The service was informal, but characterized by great sincerity and devotion. It consisted of songs, prayer, reading of the Scripture and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. There was no set formality or ritual and the order of the service varied from one congregation to another, but in the essentials there was general agreement. Simplicity and fervency characterized all that was done.” Paul had taught the Corinthians to meet each Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2, NASB), to bring the supplies for the Lord’s Supper on this day (1 Corinthians 11:20), and we are to learn from and follow this example (1 Corinthians 4:17).
Having a special day to worship is important for a man’s spiritual needs as well as his physical needs. The Jews were specifically told the Sabbath (Saturday, the seventh day of the week) was a “day of rest” (Exodus 20:8-10). This type of instruction, however, is never associated with the Lord’s Day (Sunday, the first day of the week). Sunday is a day for worship and this single fact should shift our emphasis from economic pursuits to God and spiritual matters. We may “work” on Sunday by mowing the lawn or cleaning house, but the first priority on Sunday is worship. Worship is to be put above work. Having one day where society turns its attention from the typical things of life is important. This fact was “dramatically illustrated by the drop in production which occurred as a result of Sunday work during the early years of the first World War” (Dictionary of Christian Ethics, John Macquarrie, p. 336). If Christians cannot meet with their brethren on Sunday morning, they are often afforded another opportunity in the evening and this opportunity should be used. For additional information on Sunday being the proper day to worship see the introductory commentary on 10:16 and the commentary on 16:1.
Where did the first Christians assemble for worship? The church started in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47) and the temple (at least for a while) provided the necessary meeting space for Christians. The Jerusalem temple had several “courts,” one of which was the Court of the Gentiles. This outer court is said to have encompassed about 35 acres. Due to the temple’s numerous precincts, porches, porticos, courtyards, compartments, cloisters, rooms, shops, terraces and chambers, it was a natural and perfect place for Christians to meet (compare Matthew 24:1). McClintock and Strong (10:252) refer to “the thousands who were frequently assembled within the precincts of the courts; which also were sometimes used for popular meetings.” More than 200,000 people could gather in this area.
Since the temple was still being restored in Jesus’ day, workmen could often be found at this place. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Levites and Temple officials were often there, as were people from Judea and Galilee. Some came to the temple for religious reasons: Worship, paying vows, seeking religious purification, meeting friends, and discussing religious matters. Others went here to settle civil disputes. Money changers would have been in the outer area as well as “beggars” (Acts 3:1-3). Since a broad spectrum of people gathered at the temple-it was a very popular place-it did not take long to “fill Jerusalem” with the information about the gospel (Acts 5:28). Christians made full use of this ready-made meeting place (see Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1-2; Acts 3:8; Acts 5:12; Acts 5:20-21; Acts 5:25; Acts 5:42), just as Jesus had done during some of His ministry (Mark 14:49, “daily”). Because of the Jerusalem temple there was no immediate need to build church buildings.
The Corinthians were certainly not meeting at the temple and apparently not meeting in private homes (compare 20a with verse 22). They may have owned, rented, or used some kind of public meeting place for congregational worship. Perhaps a businessman offered his shop for a meeting place. The first known “church buildings” were not built until some time after 125 A.D (these were built at Edessa and Arbella, towns east of Damascus). These structures even had baptisteries to immerse the unsaved into Christ (CBL, Acts, p. 205). The lack of church buildings, as we think of them, may also be indicated in James 2:2.
The word synagogue (sunagoge) in James 2:2 is usually found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts and it normally meant “synagogue.” In fact, aside from the Gospels and Acts, this term is found only in James 2:2 and Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9. In James 2:1-26 some scholars think synagogue refers to the place where Christians met. Others believe it refers to the actual meetings (assemblies) Christians had. Gingrich and Danker’s comment on James 2:2 was: “a Christian assembly-place can also be meant in Js. 2:2” (p. 783). Thayer (p. 600) said, “the name is transferred to an assembly of Christians formally gathered for religious purposes.” Because James refers to the “seating” in the synagogue (James 2:3), it seems “‘meeting’ and ‘place of meeting’ merge into one another here” (Kittel, 7:837-838). Adamson (James, p. 105) suggested that Christian and non-Christian Jews used, till the final rift between Jews and Christians, the word synagogue to describe their meeting place. He also suggested that in James 2:1-26, as well as other first century situations, Christians and Jews clinging to the Law of Moses “both met in the same place for worship, as, for example, the Christians James and Paul used the Temple (Acts 21:26; Acts 22:19)” (ibid).
Unlike today, there was more emphasis on evangelism than constructing church buildings (saving souls was the paramount concern). Also, since persecution was a common part of Christianity (Acts 8:1-4), erecting buildings would have been somewhat senseless (Christians may have had to flee an area before construction had been completed). Today many use church buildings as an expedient (they help us carry out the command to assemble, verse 18). When Christianity first began, this type of arrangement was not used. Buildings are not wrong, but we should remember they are just a tool to help carry out the work of the church.
A unified congregation: “Into one place” (the KJV rendering of verse 20) is based on three separate words from the Greek text (epi, to, auto). Thayer (p. 87) said this trio of words meant “to the same place, in the same place.” Lenski (First Corinthians, p. 457) agreed, saying this expression meant “all assemble ‘in the same place.’” These same three words are joined together in other places such as Matthew 22:34; Acts 1:15; Acts 2:1; Acts 2:44; 1 Corinthians 14:23. Gingrich and Danker (p. 123) defined this expression as: “of place at the same place, together.” These few words suggest the members of a local congregation all met together for worship. “The ‘togetherness’ of the early Christians was expressed principally in their meeting for public worship ‘in church fellowship’ or ‘in the assembly’” (Brown, 3:1194). Unlike some congregations today, there were no “divided worship assemblies.”
Into one place implies that separate worship services such as “children’s church” are inconsistent with God’s plan for corporate worship. A congregation may have separate Bible classes for all, but in worship, God intends for everyone to assemble together. Some groups seem to delight in having assemblies that separate family members from each other, but this is not God’s plan. In fact, in a time when families may come to services in separate vehicles, leave in separate vehicles, and not come together for a family meal but once or twice a week (if that), every congregation should insist that every family member be part of the corporate worship service. If children are unruly, parents train them about the need to be part of God’s spiritual family.
In addition to teaching against a divided assembly, into one place teaches Christians to physically assemble for worship (i.e. regular attendance at worship is part of living the Christian life). This author once studied with a mother and her teenage son and the young man expressed his delight at having a home Bible study. In his mind, a preacher coming to his house and discussing the Bible every week eliminated his obligation to attend services. Others have reasoned in a similar way (they want to “get their religion at home” instead of gathering with fellow Christians). God intends for Christians to physically assemble and then worship with fellow saints. Unless Christians cannot meet due to health reasons or something like bad weather, Christians assemble on the day God has prescribed and worship as He has directed.
Common questions about the Lord’s Supper:
What about non-Christians partaking of the Lord’s Supper? At the heart of this question is who is amenable or accountable to God’s word. Are non-Christians accountable to God’s laws? The answer to this question is yes. If the unsaved are not accountable to God’s laws, there is no reason to evangelize. If we are to evangelize (Mark 16:15), it is only because all people have violated God’s laws (compare Romans 3:23).
It is true that God’s laws do not always apply to people in exactly the same way (laws about motherhood do not apply to men and there are laws about marriage that do not apply to single people or infants). All are accountable to God’s New Testament and Peter demonstrated this in his preaching. He said people had “ignorantly” opposed Jesus (Acts 3:17), but this lack of knowledge did not excuse their murderous actions (Acts 3:13-15). Even though these people were ignorant of God’s will concerning Jesus, they were still guilty of sin and were obligated to obey the gospel (Acts 3:19).
God’s laws apply to non-Christians, but there are sometimes some special circumstances. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, a non-Christian is obligated to observe the Lord’s Supper (this is God’s will), but some things must be done before he is qualified to observe it. Stated another way, a non-Christian is obligated but not “qualified” to observe the Communion. Such a person becomes qualified by becoming a Christian. If a non-Christian seeks to take the Lord’s Supper, we should not attempt to stop him. Our job is to teach him so he can be part of the one body (10:17). After all, the Supper belongs to Jesus, not us. Paul said we are to examine ourselves during this part of the service, not others (verse 28).
What about offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday night to those who were not present Sunday morning? Some Christians may wake up ill on a Sunday morning but feel better later in the day and worship that evening. Others may have to work on a Sunday morning, sit with someone who was sick, or they may be involved in a situation like Jesus described in Matthew 5:24. Since many congregations meet twice for worship on Sunday (once in the morning and once in the evening), is it right or wrong to offer the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evenings for those who missed the morning service?
Jesus hinted at the correct answer in Matthew 5:24: “leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Although this information involved the Old Testament system of worship, we can learn from it (Romans 15:4). Jesus’ words suggest that Christians who cannot worship at the intended time should use a later opportunity. If this opportunity exists later in the day, then this later time is an acceptable time to partake of the Communion. Another reason to accept this conclusion is found in the Old Testament Passover, a feast that has some similarities to the Communion. If Jews could not partake of the Passover at the appointed time, there was a “make up” opportunity for them (Numbers 9:10-11). Sunday evening can be a “make up” time to observe the Communion. Some may try to willfully skip Sunday mornings and rely on Sunday night for worship, but the Old Testament offered a strong warnings against misusing any make up opportunity (Numbers 9:13). Wise Christians take this information seriously (Romans 15:4).
What about children? Should they partake of the Lord’s Supper? No. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have committed sin and need a savior; children are in a state of sinlessness (Matthew 18:1-4). Although children have no need for the Lord’s Supper, they are often curious about this event, especially when they see adults partaking of it week after week. Many thoughtful Christian parents and Bible school teachers have taken time outside of worship to let children taste the elements of the Lord’s Supper, explain the significance of it, and remind children that a time will come when they will be old enough to participate in this weekly memorial.
Should the Lord’s Supper be taken to people who cannot attend services? This is an important question, but it is also a poorly worded question because it indicates the Lord’s Supper is the only thing that matters. A more accurate question would be: “Should we provide an opportunity for people to worship if they cannot attend the regular Sunday services in a local congregation?” The answer to this question is yes. Christians confined to nursing homes or in a hospital may want to worship on Sunday. Since worship includes but is not limited to the Lord’s Supper, offering an abbreviated service to those who cannot assemble with the main meeting of the congregation is a demonstration of the golden rule (Matthew 7:12).
What if someone wants to make Communion bread? This is done in many places and the process is very easy. One recipe that makes 200 one-inch squares of bread requires mixing together one and three fourths cups of bread flour, a half cup of olive oil, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a third of a cup of water. Roll out two ten inch by ten inch squares on baking sheets and then score the squares with a seamstress tracing wheel. Bake the mixture for ten minutes at 400 degrees or until lightly browned.
What if grape juice cannot be found? Grapes are available in most places, or it is possible to find sundried raisins. Since sundried raisins are dehydrated grapes dried by sunshine, they may be reconstituted to create the fruit of the vine (add water to these raisins and boil them). Strain and press the raisins to create the fruit of the vine. While this process does not produce fresh juice (there is no Biblical requirement for “fresh fruit of the vine”), it is unfermented juice and a way some missionaries have used to provide the supplies for the Lord’s Supper.
Is it permissible to partake of the fruit of the vine before the bread? Everything in the New Testament points to having the bread before the fruit of the vine. Even in Luke 22:15-20 where we read about two “cups,” the cup associated with the Lord’s Supper is listed after the bread (Luke 22:20).
If a congregation wants to reverse the process, we should ask why and there should be a very good answer before we consider changing a pattern that we find multiple times in the New Testament. Also, even if having the fruit of the vine before the bread is a “lawful” act, it is not expedient (1 Corinthians 6:12). Reversing the two activities might wound the conscience of a fellow worshipper (1 Corinthians 8:12). Also, reversing the process would seem to misrepresent what took place on the cross. Jesus gave His body for the sins of mankind, said the process was “finished” (John 19:30), and then His side was pierced and out came blood and water (John 19:34). Having the bread first reminds people about the true sequence of events at Calvary.
What about congregations that use just one cup? This is permissible because it has no noticeable impact on observing the Lord’s Supper. God has not legislated the number of containers to use, so we can choose how many cups to use, what type of cup to use, and even how to distribute the cup (it might be passed from person to person or people could file by a table and individually partake). Since the book of Acts shows that several thousand people were Christians (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14), it seems highly doubtful that a single cup was used in every instance. A similar thing is true for the bread; we might use a “loaf” or have something as small as a wafer. Also, we could pass the bread by hand or use a container. We are commanded to have the Lord’s Supper each Sunday using the bread and the fruit of the vine, but the specifics of this activity are left up to us.
Is it true that Mormons use bread and water for the Lord’s Supper? Yes. When the Mormon faith was first started, wine was used. Since Joseph Smith allegedly received a revelation saying he was “not to purchase wine or strong drink from his enemies” and “wine was not necessary for the Supper” (see their Doctrine and Covenants, 27:2-4), this religious group uses water. Water was first used in 1837, but this practice did not gain complete and world-wide acceptance until the 20th century (1912).
Can we really be sure that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed every Sunday? Yes. Christians are commanded to eat the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:17-29; 1 Corinthians 11:33-34), they are commanded to assemble (Hebrews 10:25), and we find Christians eating the Lord’s Supper when they assembled (1 Corinthians 11:20; 1 Corinthians 11:33). Since Sunday was a specific and appointed day to assemble (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and Paul taught the Lord’s “commandments” (1 Corinthians 14:37), the example we have and must follow is assembling on the first day of the week and having the Lord’s Supper at these assemblies (compare Acts 20:7).
In the Romans letter we are told to “learn from the Old Testament” (Romans 15:4). In the Old Testament we find that God gave specific instructions when dealing with memorials. As shown in the following chart, God told His people when and how often observances should be. If God has not given us any instructions about when and how to observe the Lord’s Supper (and this is the claim some make), it is the only appointed feast and memorial that God has not legislated. Did God carefully legislate the feasts that did not directly involve His Son and then “go silent” on how to observe the Lord’s Supper, an event that commemorates the precious blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28)? NO!
Since every Sunday worship includes the Lord’s Supper, we should never worship with a congregation that offers the Communion on a less frequent basis (i.e. once a month, once a quarter, every three months, once a year, or “on special holy days”). Some have said having the Lord’s Supper every week “makes it common,” so it is better to have it a few times a year. If this reasoning is valid, one wonders why this same logic is not applied to prayer. Too, since God has instructed to have the Communion ever week, our personal judgment on its frequency is irrelevant.
Is the Lord’s Supper a sacrament? “A sacrament (as used in Catholicism) is an act which has efficacy in itself and in the validity of the administrator (an authorized person) and requires no faith on the part of the one on whom it is administered” (Roberts, The Letter of James, p. 99). Many groups designate the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament, but the Bible never uses this terminology. God says this Supper is a “memorial” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Instead of being a mystical or ritual act, the Supper is a devotional act of worship when Christians think back and mediate upon Jesus’ death. It is a time of self-examination, proof of our sincerity, and a renewal of our faith. The Supper reminds us of the past, the present, and even the future (verse 26).
Is the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist? Like the word sacrament in the preceding question, eucharist is not found in the Bible. This term comes from a Greek word meaning “a giving of thanks.” About 90 years after the church was established, men began to speak of “sacraments” in the Catholic sense of the word, but this type of meaning is never found in the New Testament. Those who “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) use Bible terminology to describe Bible things.
What if someone is allergic to grape juice? Although this is rare, this author is aware of at least one case in which someone made this claim. If this situation were to arise it should be remembered that God has not designated how much grape juice we must drink (a sip of juice is unlikely to injure anyone who is allergic to it). If this is not an acceptable option, the juice may be diluted with water and then the smallest possible amount of weakened juice will allow someone to properly observe this aspect of the Supper. Believers find some way to fulfill God’s instructions when faced with difficult or unusual circumstances (1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 John 1:9; 2 John 1:11).
What about the doctrines called transubstantiation and consubstantiation? See the commentary at the end of 10:16b for information on these beliefs.
Can we worship on days other than Sunday? Yes. There will be times when Christians may engage in worship on a day other than Sunday. Something like a youth devotional may occur on a Friday night and this type of occasion may rightly be called worship. James said if “any is cheerful” he can “sing praise” (James 5:13). Through Jesus we can “offer up a sacrifice of praise continually” (Hebrews 13:15). We can also listen to Bible teaching outside of Sunday worship as well as pray and even contribute money to benevolent works. Worship is not restricted to Sunday, but neither can we somehow remove worship from Sunday. We also have no authority or right to observe the Lord’s Supper on a day other than Sunday (the first day of the week). The Lord’s Supper is a specific act, for a specific day, and it is a weekly requirement for worship in “truth” (John 4:24).
11:21: for in your eating each one taketh before (other) his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
One of the most serious problems at Corinth was division (compare 1:10). Here Paul said, “each one taketh before (other) his own supper.” Brown (2:534) suggested, “Church-members from the slave class were apt to arrive too late and could therefore no longer take part in the table-fellowship of the meal proper (1 Corinthians 11:21).” Kittel (2:34) said the fellowship meals were “profaned by the separation of individuals.” The Corinthians seem to have forgotten that our treatment of fellow Christians is our treatment of Jesus (Matthew 25:40).
In the Greek text each one appears first. Rather than wanting to be “first in line,” the Corinthians did not want to have a line; they wanted to eat the food they brought and refused to share their provisions with others. These Christians were selfish, were greedy, and had virtually no remorse about their bad behavior.
As noted in the commentary below, taketh before (prolambano) is a present tense verb, so this was an on-going (habitual) problem. Paul rebuked this practice in various ways, one of which is found in verse 24 (Jesus “broke” bread to represent His body and then shared this with His disciples). The Communion should have reminded these Christians of the need to be unified and told them their factions and divisions were sinful. The Corinthians also erred in not separating the Lord’s Supper from the potluck food (29b). Many things kept these Christians from worshipping in a decent and orderly manner (14:40).
Although the members of this congregation had been taught the truth about the Lord’s Supper, this chapter portrays “a greedy scramble to eat the provisions before it became possible ‘to make a general distribution of them, and without sharing them with your neighbors.’ As a result the poor who could not bring much, or those who could bring nothing and who were late in arriving, would go hungry” (Beacon Bible Commentary, 8:418). In this culture letting the rich eat first and be satisfied while neglecting the poor was “so common that it would have seemed natural for the church to do the same. The gospel, however, demanded a radical departure from custom. This is why the New Testament warns against giving honor to the wealthy (James 2:1-26)” (Holman, 7:197). In fact, the force of the Greek text in James 2:1 is “stop showing favoritism” (James’ readers wrestled with some of the same problems faced by the Corinthians).
The word translated “take” (prolambano) is a present tense verb and it meant people were eating before everyone else arrived (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:158). Thayer (p. 540) defined it as “to take before.” “Instead of practicing patience and self-control they were selfishly operating on the principle of first come, first served!” (CBL, GED, 5:307). The result of Christians not waiting for each other is given in 21b: Some were “hungry” and others were “drunken.” The hungry were probably the poor (these Christians may have been slaves and missed the meals because they could not control if or when they came to worship). The drunken may refer to wealthy Christians. Well-to-do members were able to come to worship at a time of their choosing and thus receive the best of what was brought. After the rich had eaten, little was left for any latecomers.
Hungry (peinao) is a very strong term that is used both literally and figuratively in the New Testament. In Matthew 4:2 hungry describes Jesus after He had fasted for 40 days. This word is also found in places like Romans 12:20 and Revelation 7:16. In this book it occurs only here, verse 34, and 4:11. In this present text it is a present tense verb and it means a certain group (possibly the rich) “pitilessly took no notice of the hungry among them” (Brown, 2:267).
Drunken (methuo) often described intoxication, but there is at least one instance (see John 2:10) when it describes fullness (satisfaction). There is some difficulty in determining the word’s meaning in this verse. It is a present tense verb and it may simply form a contrast (i.e. some had their hunger satisfied and others were unsatisfied). If this interpretation is correct, drunken is a metonymy. “The one has more than is right, the other less” (Bengel, 2:229).
It is also possible that the Corinthians had introduced alcohol to the Lord’s Supper, perhaps because of pagan influence. Brown (1:514) noted how the Corinthians were surely familiar with the Dionysus cult, a religion that stressed “religious intoxication.” If this was Paul’s point, these Christians needed to realize that “Unlike the feasts of Dionysus, the Lord’s Supper is no place for intoxication. Intoxication is the direct opposite of spiritual drink” (Kittel, Abridged Edition, p. 576). Just as we would recoil at seeing a deacon serve as a bartender at a church potluck, or a preacher say, “Let’s have a beer before we study the Bible,” so Paul may have been telling the Corinthians that alcohol and the Christian life are not partners. A proverb says, “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.” Many people have thought they were finished with alcohol, but they came to realize alcohol was not finished with them.
If alcohol was being brought to services, it was likely being brought by the rich. “The excessive drinking of intoxicants was a common vice among the ancient Jews and other early peoples. But since intoxicants were so expensive, it was particularly a practice of the rich (Amos 6:6; Amos 4:1; Amos 2:8)” (Baker’s Dictionary of New Testament Theology, p. 174). If alcohol was being brought and used, the Corinthians were exposing former drunkards (compare 1 Corinthians 6:10-11) to something that had formerly enslaved them. Acting in this manner was another demonstration of thoughtless and unloving behavior. Since this church was plagued with severe problems and their supper in worship was not truly the Lord’s Supper, Paul took drastic steps to correct things. Before studying these corrections (which begin in verse 22), it is worthwhile to consider the following points of application which are adopted from Albert Barnes (First Corinthians, p. 213).
1. If the Corinthians were intoxicated during times of worship, their behavior cannot be excused. We can, however, remember that at least some of them had formerly been heathens, and forsaking their old ways was surely difficult. Past habits are often hard to break, so we want to form the best habits we can as early as possible in life.
2. Competent and godly Christians had taught the Corinthians, but this did not keep them from being influenced by false teachers or evil practices. Today, no matter how well we teach other Christians, there is no guarantee that converts will hold to the truth when they are exposed to false doctrine, false teachers or sin. Too, in the best congregations there will be “church problems.” Corinth shows that local congregations are never perfect places.
3. This letter tells us that Christian worship can be corrupted. When this happens a congregation must make things right or eventually be rejected by God (Revelation 2:5). Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthian worship proves that corrupted worship (whether deviations are small or great) is wrong. We stay true to God by receiving and heeding regular instruction from sound gospel teaching, personal study, and by wise and watchful elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:17; Acts 20:31). Elders “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
11:22: What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.
The word translated “despise” (kataphroneo) is used nine times in the New Testament. Basic definitions for this term are despise, treat scornfully, and show contempt. In this verse despise is a present tense verb and it describes “unworthy conduct at the Lord’s Supper” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:270). Here it seems the Corinthians were despising the church (fellow Christians) by not sharing their potluck food (perhaps poor Christians were being overlooked, verse 21). Rather than deal with the right to eat together, Paul focused on how Christians were eating together and what was being done at the fellowship meals. Since not everyone was eating at the same time, people were not sharing, some were filled and others went hungry, and the Communion was apparently not being separated from the potluck food, things were in a state of chaos. These Christians had to either correct the problems or eat at home. One way or another, the abuses had to stop.
The Beacon Bible Commentary (8:419) provided a good summary of how the love feasts were combined with the Communion: “First, they had changed a spiritual observance into a kind of holiday feast. The purpose of the Communion was to remind the believers of the death of Christ and of the redemptive results of His suffering. If the people wanted to satisfy their hunger or to have a festive meal, they should do so on another occasion.” This could have been done before or after the worship service. Second, by their selfishness the more wealthy members embarrassed and humiliated the poor among the believers. “This combination of sins led Paul to the simplest yet most complete statement of condemnation: What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (ibid). The matter was so serious that Paul asked several probing questions in verse 22.
In the middle of this verse there is a reference to “them that have not” (this may describe the poor). The word translated shame (kataischuno) is also found in verses 4-5 (“dishonor”). Here shame is a present tense verb and it meant acting in a way that humiliates or disgraces fellow Christians (CBL, GED, 3:257); wealthy Christians apparently shamed the poor. When the information in 22b is compared with verses 18-19, it seems this congregation was divided into social classes. There were rich and poor Christians and the rich were not sharing their food. James said this type of behavior is an appalling sin (James 2:5; James 2:9-10; James 2:13).
Paul’s question about having houses to eat and to drink in is expressed in such a way that a negative answer is expected. In other words, “‘You surely do not mean that you have no houses for eating and drinking? And yet this is what your actions imply” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 460). These Christians “had houses where they could eat and drink their fill, but by eating and drinking their fill during the meeting of the congregation and by disregarding the poor they acted as thought they had no houses” (ibid). The problem was not “eating in a church building” as some have thought. The issue was flagrant disregard for fellow Christians who were probably poor. The following verses also indicate the Communion was being mixed with table food.
The lack of courtesy and love for the poor was so bad Paul also said, “I praise you not.” This was equivalent to saying, “I condemn your conduct.” I praise you not is “a strong litotes for: ‘I blame you’” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 461). The word rendered praise (epaineo) is also used in verse 2 where it has a positive sense; here (as well as verse 17) it is negative.
The rich are often treated well (compare James 2:1-4), but this is not always true with the poor and the outcasts in society. People need to know that God expects every single Christian to be treated well and that “God looks especially upon the poor. He does not put them to shame, nor will he have them put to shame by others, James 1:9-10; James 2:2-9. God is no respecter of persons” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 460). Certainly Jesus shows us the value of all people by His interaction with people His society rejected: Lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.
Warren Wiersbe (First Corinthians, p. 605) told of a time when he attended a Sunday picnic. “The person in charge of the games set up a relay that involved various people throwing eggs to each other as they backed farther and farther apart. Of course, the farther the teams went from each other, the harder the participants had to throw the eggs and the results were hilarious.” Two Sunday school children watched “the eggs with great fascination. They came from a poor family that probably rarely ate eggs because they could not afford them. The little girl went to the lady leading the games and asked, ‘If there are any eggs left over, can my brother and I take them home?’ Wisely, the lady stopped the game before it was really over, awarded the prizes, and gave all the eggs to the two children. She knew that it was wrong for some of the saints to have a good time at the expense of others.” This was one of the lessons Paul wanted the Corinthians to learn. Another lesson was not discerning the Lord’s body (verse 29).
Some may think the Lord’s Supper described in the following verses has no real connection with the fellowship meals described here in verses 17-22, but this is incorrect. In describing the Lord’s Supper Paul explained how Jesus gave Himself for others. Since Jesus was willing to give His life for people, how could the Corinthians not share their food one with another? Refusing to share at the potlucks was a terrible sin. Having potlucks and properly sharing food with one another is actually a demonstration of the oneness Christians have in and through Christ.
11:23: For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread;
This verse is very similar to 1 Corinthians 15:3 (Paul “received” information and “delivered” it to the Corinthians). In this book, received (paralambano) is found only here, 1 Corinthians 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3. Kittel (4:13) said in each of these passages received means “‘to receive in fixed form, in the chain of Christian tradition,’ the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.” That is, Paul had received personal instruction from Jesus concerning the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ death (compare Galatians 1:11-12). In the New Testament we find several examples of Jesus directly revealing Himself to Paul (see Acts 9:1-11; Acts 18:9-10; Acts 22:17-21; Acts 23:11; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Galatians 2:2).
Kittel’s definition in the preceding paragraph implies that divine revelation (the Bible) is never subject to change or alteration (for an illustration of how carefully the Bible has been preserved, see the commentary on 13:3). Paul certainly did not want to change any part of the information he had received. He sought to be a faithful steward with God’s revelation to him (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) and he condemned any man or angel that would seek to alter it (Galatians 1:8-9) because he had received the “Lord’s commandments” (14:37). Since those who received this letter were failing to abide by all he taught them, here “Paul contrasts himself with the Corinthians. What they had received from him is different from what they are now practicing in Corinth” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 461). Today it is essential to ask if we also are faithful or unfaithful stewards of what has been delivered to us. If we do not know the New Testament very well, or we are not faithfully following it, we will not fare very well at the final judgment (John 12:48).
Delivered (paradidomi) is used twice in this verse: In the first part of this passage we find that Paul delivered the facts of the gospel to the Corinthians. This means “pass on teaching and modes of conduct (for faithful observance, 1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Corinthians 11:23 a; 15:3)” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3:20). Both received and delivered indicate there is a “fixed form” for the Communion and all other matters associated with New Testament worship, just as there was a “fixed form” for Old Testament worship. Stated another way, God has a “pattern” for man to follow (2 Timothy 1:13, ASV). Since there is a God given pattern-a divine blueprint, it is wrong to do things in the way we want or think best.
Paul was not present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but he knew how it was instituted and how it should be observed by Christians. Here he said he had received this information directly from “the Lord” (this knowledge did not come from any earthly source). Paul knew Jesus took “bread” and gave it to the apostles at what is commonly called the “Last Supper.” Because the Supper was instituted at Passover time, and Jews removed all leaven from their houses during this period (Exodus 12:8; Exodus 12:15 f; Matthew 26:17), it seems almost indisputable that unleavened bread was used to institute the Lord’s Supper (for more information on this topic see the commentary on Luke 22:1-71 in section 35 of the Gospels commentary).
Paul also knew Jesus was “betrayed” (23b). This is the same term translated delivered in the first part of the verse. Since betrayed is an imperfect tense verb, Jesus was being betrayed during the Last Supper (as the Supper progressed, the betrayal progressed). This betrayal was very sad, but it certainly did not surprise Jesus (see John 6:64). In fact, about a year prior to this time (Matthew 17:22), Jesus said He was being “delivered up” (present tense). In Matthew 17:1-27 Jesus used the present tense to describe the certainty of His death. Being deity (John 1:1) Jesus had divine foreknowledge and that foreknowledge allowed Him to know what the future held for Him (compare Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:19-20).
Paul specifically called attention to the “night” in which he was betrayed. Several commentators have offered a variety of thoughts on this part of the verse, but this author believes The Church’s Bible (p. 187) correctly understands the point. “We remember especially the last words of those who are departing in this life, and if any of their heirs dare to transgress such commands, we shame them by saying: ‘Consider that your father left behind this parting word to you, and he kept enjoining these things right up to the night he was about to pass away.’ That is what Paul does here.” Night and betrayal describe how Jesus was “determined to make this new covenant with His people and fulfill the entire will of God even in the dark shadow of betrayal and death” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 405).
11:24: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.
Paul knew many things about the institution of the Lord’s Supper (verse 23) and this knowledge included the specifics of how it was instituted. Paul knew Jesus “took” bread (23b) and gave “thanks” for it (i.e. He expressed appreciation for it). Paul also knew, although he was not actually present at this meal, that Jesus also “brake” (klao) this bread and said, “This is my body.” Some manuscripts (see the KJV translation) contain three simple commands : “Take, eat, do” (as noted below, do is a present tense verb-an on-going action).
Give thanks (eucharisteo) is a fairly common New Testament verb. It is the word Jesus used when expressing appreciation for seven loaves and fish (Matthew 15:36). We also find this term in the story of the ten lepers (only one came back and “gave thanks,” Luke 17:16). This word is associated with Paul “giving thanks” for food (Acts 27:35) as well as “unthankful” people (Romans 1:21). The Bible has much to say about thanksgiving and every Christian should be especially grateful that Jesus died and we have a weekly way to remember His sacrifice.
Brake (klao) means Jesus “did this for the purpose of distribution only. No parallel such as spilling or pouring occurs in the case of the wine. The breaking is incidental” (Lenski, First Corinthians, p. 465). Lenski (First Corinthians, p. 465) also noted how “Loaves could not be baked from unleavened dough. Jesus had no ‘loaf,’ he had only a thin, flat cake of bread such as are still baked and eaten in the Holy Land quite generally; pieces of these were broken off when eating.”
Those who use the KJV will see that brake (klao) is used a second time at the end of this verse (“is broken for you”). There is some textual evidence for this word being used again at the end of the verse and the NKJV also includes it. We know that none of Jesus’ bones were literally broken (John 19:36), but because His body was so badly battered, there is a sense in which we can say His body was figuratively broken. Psalms 22:14 predicted Jesus’ bones would be “out of joint,” but this does not mean any bones were literally broken. Translations such as the ASV, NASB, and NIV omit “Take, eat” and “broken for you.” These versions usually render the thought something like: “which is for you.”
The words for you remind Bible students of Isaiah 53:5. Jesus died for us; He was wounded for our transgressions; He died on our behalf. Our sins put Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus died for us, He has every right to have us observe the Communion once a week, on His day, in remembrance of Him. We should eagerly look forward this to this activity every Sunday because it reminds us of the available forgiveness through His blood. Here Paul expressed the every Sunday practice of the Lord’s Supper with a present tense verb (“do”). For more information on why the Lord’s Supper is to be observed every Sunday, see the introductory comments on 10:16, the commentary on 10:16a, and the commentary on 11:20b.
The word “remembrance” (anamnesis) may be understood as “recollection” (Thayer, p. 40). Of the four times this term occurs in the New Testament (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25; Hebrews 10:3), three of the passages refer to the Lord’s Supper. Instead of having the Supper in “memory” of Jesus, there is to be an actual remembrance. As human beings we are often forgetful and sometimes we forget important things. Even in cases where a loved one has died, memories can fade with time. To help us remember those we love and hold in high esteem, we frequently rely upon a memorial or commemorative act. Cemeteries often serve as a memorial. Some visit a grave site to help them remember loved ones who have died. In the case of Christianity, people do not visit a grave or send flowers. Christians observe the Lord’s Supper and will do this until Jesus returns (verse 26). Since this remembrance was instituted more than 2,000 years ago, Christians around the world have partaken of this act more than 100,000 times.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it does set forth some of the things we should remember each time we partake of the Communion.
Ø We live under a New Testament that is sealed with Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20).
Ø Jesus died for the church and purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28).
Ø Jesus did this willingly (John 1:29) because the Godhead loves mankind (John 3:16).
Ø We remember how our sins helped send Jesus to the cross.
Ø The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we are one body (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Ø Since a dead savior cannot save us, the Supper reminds us of the resurrection.
Ø The Communion reminds us that Jesus will one day return for us (verse 26b).
Ø Remembrance tells us to be awake, mentally alert, and focused.
Ø The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we are owned by Jesus (Romans 6:13).
Ø It reminds us to examine ourselves (verse 29).
Ø It reminds us that we are in the presence of the true and living God (Hebrews 10:31).
A story is told about a prisoner who was immersed into Christ (Galatians 3:27) for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38). Unlike most people this man did not immediately exit the baptistery. He stood in the water and wept for a long time. He knew his sins were many and he was overwhelmed at God’s willingness to extend forgiveness to him. We may not ever be arrested for a crime, but in a spiritual sense we are guilty of multiple horrible acts (sin). We may not be on the “most wanted” list of a law enforcement agency, but we have sinned against a holy and just God and the Lord’s Supper reminds us of who we were and what God has done for us. The Lord’s Supper is not a time to emphasize our guilt; it is a time to reflect on the greatness of God’s grace, love and mercy to those who obey Him (Matthew 7:21). The Supper is a regular reminder to the saved of how their names are in the book of life and they have been freed from an eternal condemnation in hell.
If we understand what the Lord’s Supper signifies and it is observed in the right manner, it will never become commonplace. Neither will we be guilty of partaking of it in an unworthy manner (verse 27, ASV). The freshness and importance of this act has no good earthly parallel, but I do like a story involving a soldier from the first World War. This man had not received any mail from home in several months and he was anxiously awaiting a letter. When some correspondence finally arrived, he practically ripped it open. He was so eager to get the letter he opened the package upside down and out fell a few pieces of grass. A comrade saw the grass and sneered, “It looks like someone played a joke on you and sent you some dried weeds.” The soldier read his letter, put it in his pocket, and then picked up the fallen grass. He held the dead grass for a while and then also put it in his pocket. He then told his buddy his mother had died and the letter was from his sister-she had included grass from the place where his mother had been buried. His sister wanted him to have something to remember his mother, but she did not want to send something valuable into the war zone. If we can understand how a few pieces of dried grass reminded a son of his mother’s love, we can understand how bread and fruit of the vine-also very simple elements-can remind us of what God has done for the world.
This verse implies several things. First, remembering what Jesus did suggests that those who come to worship should know what the Lord’s Supper represents (it may be useful to describe this part of the worship before the bread and the fruit of the vine are distributed). Second, those participating in this part of the worship, as well as every other part, should have a proper mindset (compare verse 27). Third, this and every other aspect of worship is serious-worship is the wrong time for humor. Fourth, if we make some comments before passing the Communion elements, we should remember that we can offer illustrations but nothing can ever be truly compared with what Jesus did.
11:25c: this do, as often as ye drink (it), in remembrance of me.
When Christians observe the Lord’s Supper they are to “remember” (anamnesis) Jesus. Remembrance is found only here, verse 24, Luke 22:19 and Hebrews 10:3 and it may be defined as “memory.” In Classical Greek remembrance was “used to signify past events that may have been forgotten or pushed to the back of one’s mind and are now brought to the memory by a particular event” (CBL, GED, 1:234). This word tells us heaven does not want us to forget about Jesus’ sacrifice or remember it on an infrequent basis.
Jesus said our remembrance is to occur “as often as” we eat the bread and drink the cup (26a). As often as implies the Lord’s Supper is to be observed on a regular basis. As shown in the introductory commentary on 10:16, the commentary on 10:16a and the commentary on11:20b, first century Christians observed the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Here Paul again describes this on-going remembrance by using two present tense verbs: “do” (“keep doing”) and “drink” (“keep drinking”). We meet every Sunday to worship and this time includes observing the Lord’s Supper.
Our remembrance of Jesus includes many things: Who He is, what He did, how He did it, why He did it, etc. Remembering Him is right because without Him and His sacrifice, there would be no hope. If Jesus had not come into the world as a man, He would not have died and we would not have the forgiveness of sins. If He had not lived a sinless life, He would not be a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:29). If He had not been raised from the dead, we would have no hope because we need a living and resurrected savior (Romans 1:4). Every week the Lord’s Supper reminds Christians that God loved them while they were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and God has made salvation available to all who will obey the terms of his covenant (Hebrews 5:9).
Under the Old Testament system worshippers remembered their sins year after year (Hebrews 10:3). With the New Testament, every Sunday Communion reminds Christians of how their sins are continually removed by obeying Christ (1 John 1:7) and that all people now have access to the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), the New Testament. When we realize what the Lord’s Supper is and of what it reminds people, even if we had no other information about the frequency of its observance, common sense would tell us to engage in this practice every Sunday.
11:26: For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.
The word “proclaim” (katangello) is translated “shew” in the KJV. Good definitions for this word are “proclaim” or “announce.” While other passages use proclaim to describe preaching (Acts 4:2; Acts 13:5; Acts 15:36; Acts 17:3; 1 Corinthians 9:14; Colossians 1:28), here the proclamation involves Jesus “death.” It is as if Christians announce the death of Jesus every time they partake of the Lord’s Supper. Since proclaim is a present tense verb, the Lord’s Supper is a continual proclamation of the fact that Jesus came and paid the full price for man’s sins. Gromacki (p. 143) correctly noted how the “Lord’s Supper is not a sacrificial presentation to God; rather, it is a visible proclamation of the gospel message to men.” This story not only needs to be retold, it needs to be retold every single week and God allows this to be done by every single Christian: Male, female, the married, single, young, old, etc.
Because this proclamation is carried out each Sunday, at least four points of application may be made. (1) God’s people should not miss Sunday assemblies unless they have a good reason for doing so. (2) We should come to worship with a sense of anticipation and joy instead of regarding worship as a “duty.” (3) The Lord’s Supper is a rather unique mix of sorrow and joy. Lee Strobel (The Case For Christ, p. 342) said: “If a group of people loved John F. Kennedy, they might meet regularly to remember his confrontation with Russia, his promotion of civil rights, and his charismatic personality. But they’re not going to celebrate the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald murdered him.” The Communion skillfully blends together joy and sadness. (4) There is a sense in which the Lord’s Supper helps teach people who Jesus is and what He did on the cross.
At the beginning of this verse Paul said “as often” (hosakis). This “assures the believer that each time he partakes in the Lord’s Supper, he again and anew ‘shows’ or ‘declares’ his remembrance of the death of the Lord” (CBL, GED, 4:393). Since Jesus’ death is central to the salvation of man (compare John 3:16), it is incomprehensible to this author how Bible believing people can attend worship every Sunday and claim to honor Jesus but not partake of the memorial that commemorates the heart of the Christian faith (compare 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul also would not have understood observing the Communion less frequently than once a week because “eat” and “drink” are both present tense verbs.
The ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV and NASB all translate the first part of verse 26 with the words “as often.” The NIV says “whenever.” While the NIV rendering may not necessarily lead people to believe they can observe the Lord’s Supper at an interval they choose, this translation certainly seems to give more leeway in this regard and it may mislead some readers into thinking the Communion does not need to be a part of every Sunday worship.
When the Lord’s Supper is observed, Christians are to use the bread and the cup. This tells us Christians are to partake of both items (the Corinthians did not have the cup withheld from them). Today, any religious group that does not distribute both the bread and the cup, or tries to limit the Supper to certain people, does not please God. The need to partake of both the cup and the bread is also seen in verse 27. This part of the verse also tells us that God has specified what we are to use for the Communion elements. Some might prefer a hamburger and a milkshake instead of bread and the fruit of the vine, but we do not have God’s authorization for using other things (compare Colossians 3:17).
The Lord death is to be proclaimed “till he come.” This statement tells us the Communion is associated with the future; Christians will observe this activity until Jesus finally returns. The Lord’s Supper is also associated with the present and the past. It is tied to the past because Jesus died more than 2,000 years ago. The Communion includes the present because it reminds Christians of their continual cleansing from sin (1 John 1:7) and the fact that all live under the New Testament that was sealed with Jesus’ blood (verse 25).
After Jesus returns, the world is destroyed (2 Peter 3:10-12), and the saved are in God’s presence for eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:17), there will be no need to “remember” Jesus (verse 25). We do not need to be “reminded” of someone if we are in his presence. Until this time comes, Christians do need the Lord’s Supper as a weekly reminder of what Jesus did so we must worship in a place where the Communion is offered every Sunday. If the place where we worship does not have the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, we need to find or start a congregation of the New Testament church (this subject is discussed at the end of this commentary).
The Bible has much to say about the future coming of Jesus. Jesus has promised to return (Matthew 24:37) and heaven’s angels are waiting for this day (Acts 1:10-11). Jesus will come at a time that cannot be predicted (Matthew 24:36) and people will not be expecting Him (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Although the Lord’s return will surprise people (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3), people will know what is taking place because the event will be audible (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and all heaven’s angels will be with Him (Matthew 25:31). All the dead will be raised (John 5:28-29), the final judgment will occur (Acts 17:31), the saved and the unsaved will be eternally separated one from another (Matthew 25:46), and the physical world and universe will be destroyed (Hebrews 1:10-12). At this time there will never again be a need for people to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
11:27: Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
The word “wherefore” points back to the Lord’s Supper being a proclamation of Jesus’ death, verse 26. Because the Communion is a reminder of Jesus’ death and the institution of a new covenant (verse 25), it must be approached with seriousness and reverence (this is also true with every other part of worship). Those who do not approach the Lord’s Supper (or any other part of worship) in this manner are guilty of sin (worshipping in an “unworthy manner”). Since Paul used the word “whosoever” in expressing the thought, anyone who fails to partake of the Supper in a proper manner is guilty of sin. Whosoever “excludes no one. Everyone, rich or poor, high or low, must approach Communion in a reverent, humble manner” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 409).
Unworthy (anaxios) is an adverb and the KJV translates it “unworthily.” This word occurs only here in the New Testament, though some manuscripts do use this word in verse 29. This fact is reflected in the KJV. Unworthy meant “careless” and partaking of the Supper “in an improper manner” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 58). In other words, Paul spoke of how the Supper was being eaten, not how the Corinthians had lived during the past week (compare verses 33-34 and the commentary on verse 29, “discern the body”). Kittel (1:380) said unworthy “does not denote a moral quality but an attitude (emphasis mine, BP) determined by the Gospel.” Unworthy “refers to a balancing of weights and so means ‘of unequal weight’ or ‘improperly balanced.’ The attitude of the person does not balance with the importance of the occasion” (Beacon Bible Commentary, 8:420).
A proper understanding of the word unworthy is important to us because some Christians have incorrectly concluded they must be worthy before they partake of the Communion. This author has known fine Christians who went to worship but refused to take the Lord’s Supper because they remembered a sin they had committed a few days prior to worship. That sin caused them to conclude they were unworthy of the Communion. This is not what Paul meant. If this were Paul’s point, no one would partake of the Communion because “in many things we ALL stumble” (James 3:2, emphasis mine, BP). Also, no Christian is ever worthy of God and His blessings (compare Romans 3:23 and Luke 17:10).
While no one is ever worthy of God and what He offers, all can partake of the Supper in a worthy manner. When we worship in a worthy way, God is pleased. Also, if we refuse to eat the Lord’s Supper because we do not feel good about our Christian life, we violate Jesus’ command to eat the Supper “in remembrance of” Him (verse 24). Christians must realize that observing the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis is not an option; neither is the Communion something Christians partake of “when they feel they need it.” It is a command and it is a command for all Christians to observe every Sunday (for information on the frequency of the Supper see the introductory commentary on 10:16, the commentary on 10:16a and the commentary on 11:20b). If Christians feel guilty about sins from an earlier time, they are to seek forgiveness before worship (1 John 1:6-10; 1 John 2:1-2) and then worship as the Bible directs. Every Sunday worship should include congregational singing (Ephesians 5:19), praying (1 Timothy 2:8), making a financial contribution (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), listening to teaching and observing the Lord’s Supper (these final two points are both found in Acts 20:7).
The verbs “eat” and “drink” are both expressed with the present tense and this again illustrates the on-going nature (every Sunday observance) of the Lord’s Supper. The present tense also helps us understand the Corinthians’ unworthy observance. Instead of being a one-time or infrequent problem, the Christians often observed the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. This is useful information because Christians today may be concerned about the times they try to worship but find themselves distracted. For instance, a parent who is trying to control unruly children may not be very focused on a worship service. A person in ill health may be distracted by physical pain, even though he wants to concentrate on worship. Christians may wonder if these circumstances make their worship unworthy and, therefore, deserving of condemnation. Paul addressed this topic with the present tense. This tense indicates he was thinking of “habitual offenders” (people who knew what was right and could do what is right, but they knowingly, willfully and repeatedly worshipped in an unworthy way).
Paul described the Corinthians’ unworthy worship as assemblies that were “for the worse” (verse 17), occasions of strife and division (verse 18), and times when Christians refused to wait for one another (verse 21). It also seems the members of this congregation mixed the Lord’s Supper with potluck food (verses 20-22). Since these Christians did not have their minds centered on Jesus and His sacrifice for the sins of the world, their worship (part of which was the Lord’s Supper) was unworthy and merited punishment (verses 29-30).
Today when people come for worship but regularly think about other things, give no thought to what is being done in the service, sit and criticize those who are leading the worship, or have no real interest in worshipping God, they are also guilty of sin. There are still people who are habitually guilty of unworthy worship and God is not pleased with these individuals. The Jews had a “preparation day” before the Sabbath (Luke 23:54) and wise Christians should operate in a similar way. Christians should prepare themselves to come and worship God.
One family known to this author had a rule about Sunday mornings: No secular music or news from the world before going to Sunday morning worship. This family wanted to focus their attention on God and spiritual things. Christians should strive to develop the attitude described in Psalms 42:1: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (NKJV). It seems David had been barred from public worship and felt a deep spiritual hunger; he wanted to worship God so badly he felt like a man who must have a drink or die of thirst. We should approach worship in a similar way. If we do, it will be difficult if not impossible to be guilty of offering unworthy worship.
Guilty (enochos) describes “the person (or thing) against whom the sin has been committed” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 268). In this case a person’s sin (spiritual crime) is committed against the Lord’s “body” and “blood.” That is, Jesus’ sacrifice is disrespected. The very items that permit a person to be redeemed from sin are slighted and insulted. People show disrespect, contempt and disdain for the greatest sacrifice ever made and this angers God. The point is somewhat similar to Exodus 15:26: “and he said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of Jehovah thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his eyes, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians: for I am Jehovah that healeth thee.” If Israel failed to “diligently hearken” to God’s law, it would face punishment-God said “diseases” would come. The Corinthians failed to follow God’s word in many areas, one of which was “discerning the Lord’s body,” so God punished them (verse 30 and compare Hebrews 12:6-11).
Today, if people turn worship into something like a secular feast (verse 21), make it a social event, treat it as a performance to enjoy, or even view it as a “routine,” they make true worship “impossible” (verse 20) and they are guilty of unworthy worship. Christians need to realize they are “priests” (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:8) and worship is a time to “come unto mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels” (Hebrews 12:22). If Christians are not serious about worship and do not seek to offer the best worship they can (compare 1 Corinthians 14:15), they risk God’s displeasure and this is an unwanted consequence. The Hebrew writer dealt with a different subject, but his warning seems so appropriate for this passage: “of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:29-31).
Hodge (p. 230) noted how the “man who tramples on the flag of his country, insults his country; and he who treats with indignity the representative of a sovereign, thereby offends the sovereign himself. In like manner, he who treats the symbols of Christ’s body and blood irreverently is guilty of irreverence towards Christ.” “The magnitude of such a sin is measured by the magnitude of the gift. The penalty is decided by the same measure” (CBL, First Corinthians, p. 409). If under the Old Testament God paid attention to the details surrounding the sacrifice of a physical lamb, will He not also pay attention to those who fail to properly honor and worship THE LAMB (John 1:36)?
Although the Lord’s Super is the specific item under consideration in the final portion of this chapter, there is no reason to limit the problem of unworthy observance to Communion. If people are supposed to sing praises to God (Hebrews 13:15), but they are often focused on secular things, they are guilty of singing in an unworthy manner. People may also give in an unworthy manner, pray in an unworthy manner, or listen to preaching in an unworthy manner. It is even possible for preachers to speak in an unworthy manner. When preaching glorifies the speaker, or is a mixture of anecdotes and jokes, preachers offer unworthy sermons.
11:28: But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.
If the Corinthians were to avoid partaking of the Communion in an unworthy manner (verse 27), they had to “examine” (KJV) or “prove” (ASV) themselves. In Classical Greek the word examine (dokimazo) described the testing of materials (coins and metals were examined to see if they were genuine). New Testament writers used this term to describe “the testing process which salvages the good and discards the useless” (CBL, GED, 2:160). Here, since examine (prove) is joined with the bread and the cup, Paul meant Christians examine themselves when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Spicq (1:356) said examine means “people must examine their conscience in order not to partake unworthily” and “they must discern the true nature of this sacred meal, which is entirely different from an ordinary repast.” Since prove (examine) is expressed with the imperative mood in the Greek text, this activity is not a suggestion or a divine recommendation. It is a direct command from God. Those who continually violate this command (see the paragraph below) should expect to be “judged” so they will “not be condemned with the world” (verse 32).
In addition to using the imperative mood, the verb examine is also in the present tense. This tense tells us Christians are to examine themselves on a regular basis. The present tense also reinforces the fact that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed on a continuing basis (every Sunday). How can Christians repeatedly examine themselves (the force of the present tense) if the Lord’s Supper is not regularly eaten? For more information on why the Communion is to be observed every Sunday, see the introductory commentary on 10:16, the commentary on 10:16a and the commentary on 11:20b. At the end of this verse we find two more present tense verbs (“eat” and “drink”) and these verbs are also in the imperative mood. This means Christians are commanded to repeatedly observe the Lord’s Supper. Groups that profess to be followers of Christ but do not regularly observe the Lord’s Supper not only ignore a divine command, they ignore a command that is associated with remembering Jesus’ death (verse 26).
Paul did not specify how we are to examine ourselves, but verse 25 implies we should consider our frame of mind. This point has already been discussed to some degree in the commentary on 11:24, but here we may add that worshippers should be focused on Jesus and His sacrifice. Christians should be mindful of the Lord’s betrayal, His tears, His prayers in the garden, and how He was mocked, beaten, and then brutally crucified “for us” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Those who partake of the Communion should consider whether or not they are walking in the light (1 John 1:9) and if they have a right relationship with fellow Christians. Finally, God’s people should be thinking of how the Lord’s Supper reminds them of being “one” with their brethren (1 Corinthians 10:16 b, 17).
Self-examination is not only an absolute must: “Paul’s instruction is wholesomely positive. He does not say to examine oneself and leave the Lord’s table in despair. Rather he counsels a man to search his heart and then in honest faith let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (Beacon Bible Commentary, 8:420). All Christians must examine themselves, but none should expect to find they lived a perfect life during the past week. All Christians “fall short” (Romans 3:23, present tense) of God’s glory and in “many things we all stumble” (James 3:2).
Paul reminded the Corinthians to examine themselves (“himself”), not others. There is no authority for Christians to decide who can eat the Lord’s Supper and who can participate in the other aspects of worship. This point is especially visible from the words: “let him eat.” The Corinthians were quick to examine and judge others and Christians today sometimes act in this same manner (compare James 2:4). It is possible and sometimes necessary to make judgments about various things; God says we must “judge righteously” (John 7:24). Part of judging righteously means letting God decide who is and is not allowed to worship. Unless someone has been withdrawn from (1 Corinthians 5:1-13), we have no authority to determine who should be allowed to worship. There have always been cases where some were “among” Christians but not truly part “of” the group (1 John 2:19). Just as there are “tares among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25) “in the world” (Matthew 13:38), so there are tares among the wheat in the church. Judas was a “devil” (John 6:70-71), but Jesus did not try to remove him from the group of disciples. We must find the right balance between not fellowshipping those who are involved with sin (1 Corinthians 5:7-11) and having the spirit of “Diotrephes” who “cast people out of the church” (3 John 1:9-10).
Those who are overly critical of fellow Christians or try to preclude others from worshipping often have a “beam in their own eye” (Matthew 7:3) and Jesus said these people should focus on their own problems (Matthew 7:5). Our role in judging worship is limited to evaluating whether worship is in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24) and we do this by using God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God is the one who makes judgments concerning the actual worship that people offer and this point is illustrated in passages such as Luke 18:1-43. Here Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men were allowed to go to the temple (a place of worship) and pray (Luke 18:10) and God evaluated both men. Jesus said only one of the men was justified (Luke 18:14) and this man was not the Pharisee. This statement probably shocked some of the Lord’s listeners. If first century Jews had judged these two men, many would have surely justified the Pharisee and condemned the tax collector. Jesus said the reverse was true.
Another illustration of how flawed our judgments often are when it comes to judging people and their worship is found in the widow who gave “two mites” (Mark 12:41-44). Most would think this woman gave just a little, but Jesus said she gave “more” than the “rich” who were offering “much.” Eli the priest thought Hannah was intoxicated (1 Samuel 1:1-14) when she was by the “temple of Jehovah” (1 Samuel 1:9-10), but he was also completely wrong (1 Samuel 1:15).
Since our judgments about people and their worship can be totally incorrect, God takes responsibility for judging worshippers and He will be actively involved in this task until time ends. This is important because many think going to worship is enough or offering worship automatically means God accepts what is offered. The parable in Luke 18:1-43 tells us these things are not true. If our worship is not in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), it is “vain” (Matthew 15:8-9). God also judges the worship of visitors. Most congregations have visitors (compare 1 Corinthians 14:22-25) and some Christians have been concerned about their guests being allowed to partake of communion. If visitors specifically ask about participating in the Lord’s Supper, we can use their inquiry as an opportunity to teach them. If they do not ask, the matter is between them and God.
In this verse we also see that Paul did not view acts such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “church sacraments” that are administered by a “church official.” Although some religious groups have a special person or group responsible for dispensing the elements of the Lord’s Supper (bread may be placed into a worshippers mouth by a priest), this type of behavior is foreign to New Testament teaching. Furthermore, instead of the “clergy-laity” system commonly found in the religious world, the Bible says all Christians are “brethren” (Matthew 23:8) and “priests” (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). There is no church hierarchy that distinguishes “parishioners” and “religious officiates.” In fact, in the next letter to this congregation (2 Corinthians 1:24), Paul said he did not have “Lordship” over these Christians. Paul had a different role than most first century Christians, but he was still “one of the brethren.” For more information on how the modern clergy-laity system conflicts with the New Testament, see the commentary on Hebrews 5:1. For additional information on the word sacrament as it is used by the religious world, see the common questions about the Lord’s Supper at the end of the commentary on 11:20b.
There are some interesting parallels and contrasts between the Lord’s Supper and the Jewish Passover feast. The Passover commemorated the Hebrews’ deliverance from the “destroyer” that plagued Egypt (Exodus 12:1-51), but the Lord’s Supper commemorates man’s deliverance from sin and eternal death. The Jewish Passover was celebrated yearly, but the Lord’s Supper is celebrated every week. The Passover required people to eat the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs, but the Lord’s Supper requires participants to eat unleavened bread (a representation of Jesus’ body) and drink the fruit of the vine (a representation of His shed blood). The Passover was a feast day for the Jewish people and for a limited time, but the Lord’s Supper is for the saved around the world until time ends (verse 26).
11:29: For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body.
The word “discern” (diakrino) occurs about 20 times in the New Testament. Jesus used this word to say people could discern the weather, but they did not understand the time for the Messiah had come (Matthew 16:3). Here discern means “the bread of the Lord’s Supper should be distinguished from ordinary bread.” Just as we draw a distinction between religious hymns and secular music, and we recognize that rock and roll is not suitable for the type of singing God has commanded (Ephesians 5:19), so the Lord’s Supper must be distinguished from things like a potluck meal. It was not wrong for the Corinthians (or us) to have a fellowship meal, but any such meal must be distinct from worship (see again the initial comments on the word “prove” in 11:28). Since Paul described this discernment with the present tense, this is to be an on-going practice. The present tense also implies the Communion is to be observed on a regular basis (every Sunday. For more information on this point see the introductory commentary on 10:16, the commentary on 10:16a and the commentary on 11:20b).
Today it is still necessary to discern the Lord’s Supper and all the other items associated with New Testament worship. When we come to worship God we must discern what is secular from what is sacred. This is not difficult, but some have apparently not learned this lesson or they do not want to obey it. Generation after generation has sought to combine secular things with sacred things. This is often done to make worship more exciting, draw a bigger crowd, increase the interest of young people, or compete with other religious groups. God wants sacred things kept separate from secular things and He illustrates this in places such as Leviticus 10:1-2. According to these two verses two priests (Nadab and Abihu) knew they needed fire, but they did not get fire from the sacred and authorized source. They used fire from a secular (unauthorized) source and this choice led to their immediate deaths. God says we are to learn from this type of history (Romans 15:4), but as illustrated in the next paragraph, some still think mixing spiritual things with things from the world is a good idea.
God has tasked the church with evangelism (Mark 16:15-16), but some want the church to be a place of and for entertainment. The church is supposed to be a place of edification (1 Corinthians 14:4 b), but some have tried to turn it into a political organization. The church is a place to study and learn (Acts 2:42), but some want it to be a place for fun and games. Jesus intended the church to be a tool to help save lost souls, but some want it to be a soup kitchen. When people forget the sacred mission of the church (compare Luke 19:10), secular activities and a worldly emphasis usually take precedence and worldly attitudes begin to affect and direct a congregation’s worship.
The sacred nature of the church is seen throughout this chapter. In verse 23 Paul spoke of information he had received “from the Lord” and had “delivered” to the Corinthians. He said this information included facts about Jesus’ death (verses 24-25) and the Lord’s future return (verse 26). He knew some were not taking this information seriously, so in the final verses of this chapter he promised judgment. If the Corinthians would not separate the secular from the sacred, God would punish them (verse 30). Here in verse 29 the reason for the punishment is described as not discerning “the body” (the KJV says “the Lord’s body”).
Many believe the body describes Jesus’ physical body that was crucified, and this is surely part of the thought (compare verses 23-24). The primary meaning of the word body in verse 29, however, seems to be the local body of Christians (i.e. the congregation). Stated another way, the Corinthians were repeatedly failing to discern that they (the church) were one body-the Lord’s spiritual body (Ephesians 1:22-23). For more information on this point refer back to 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:13 and see the commentary on 10:16b and 10:17.
The Corinthians were demonstrating their lack of oneness by division (verses 18-19), refusing to share their food with one another (verse 21), letting some fellow Christians go hungry (verse 21), and by being rude (verse 22). Two chapters later Paul had to tell these Christians that true love “is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4) and it “does not behave rudely” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). If this congregation had been functioning properly, these Christians would have been of one mind and purpose (compare 12:13) and the Lord’s Supper would have regularly reminded them of this oneness. Since this was not being done and there was nothing to indicate that things would change without some type of divine discipline, “judgment” was the logical result (verse 30).
The KJV illustrates some variations in the original text. One variation is found in the words “the Lord’s body” instead of “the body” (ASV). Whichever reading is accepted, the body (as noted in the preceding paragraphs) may refer to Jesus’ crucified body, but it also most certainly includes the church (the local group of Christians). Some manuscripts also include the word “unworthily” in verse 29 (the KJV includes this word and the ASV excludes it). This term is discussed in the comments on verse 27.
If Christians do not discern the body (i.e. they are not mindful of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and they are not one with the congregation where they worship), partaking of the Lord’s Supper (worship) may result in “judgment” (krima). This verse is probably one of the better known texts in this book, but this passage has often been misunderstood and many have been unnecessarily frightened by it. Some think the latter part of this verse means if they ever fail to fully concentrate on the Lord’s Supper when it is offered, God will strike them with tragedy and misfortune. This is not what Paul meant.
As noted in the earlier comments on this verse, “eat” and “drink” are present tense verbs. This implies that if a person is guilty of observing the Lord’s Supper in a poor way just one time, punishment is not going to come. Also, as noted in the comments on verse 27, worshippers with the best intentions can suffer from distractions. The present tense tells us Paul described habitual action (the Corinthians were doing this week after week). The division in this congregation was present every week, the poor were overlooked every week, the Lord’s Supper was being mixed with the potluck food each week, and Christians were not waiting for one another Sunday after Sunday (verse 33). Things were so out of control at this congregation that God’s patience had finally worn thin and there was no recourse but divine discipline (verse 30).
The KJV uses the word “damnation” (KJV) to describe the judgment (discipline), but the better translation is found in the ASV (“judgment”). Thayer (p. 360) defined judgment as “so to eat as to incur the judgment or punishment of God.” The word damnation in the KJV has scared so many people Vincent (3:252) called the KJV wording in verse 29 a “false and horrible rendering” that “has destroyed the peace of more sincere and earnest souls than any other misread passage in the New Testament. It has kept hundreds from the Lord’s table.” Instead of translating the original word, the KJV interprets it. If the KJV rendering is right (the Corinthians were eternally damned for not observing the Lord’s Supper in the correct way), why write this letter and encourage them to repent? Punishment was certainly justified, but Paul still viewed these Christians as brethren and this fact also shows they were not eternally condemned. Unless these Christians refused to repent, it seems their punishment was limited to this life. There is a word that means condemnation in the sense of eternal punishment and this term is actually used in this chapter (verse 32). The fact that Paul chose a word meaning judgment instead of condemnation is yet more proof that he was not speaking of damnation.
In this verse we find the words eateth and drinketh being used four times and in each case these words are expressed with the present tense. Wuest tries to capture the richness of the thought with his expanded translation: “So that, whoever is eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let an individual be putting himself to the test for the purpose of approving himself and finding that he meets the prescribed specifications, let him thus be eating of the bread and drinking of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks is eating and drinking so as to bring judgment upon himself if he does not properly evaluate the body.”
Someone has tried to summarize the Lord’s Supper with the “the 4 R’s.” There is the revelation of the Lord’s Supper (verse 23-Paul had “received” this information from Jesus). There is a relationship in the Lord’s Supper (Christians are one body, verse 29. There is also a relationship with Jesus in the Communion, Matthew 26:29). The Lord’s Supper is a repetitive act (eat and drink in verse 29 are present tense verbs). Finally, there is retribution (verse 30) for those who refuse to separate the secular from the sacred as well as those who refuse to be serious about sacred things.
11:30: For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.
As noted in the comments on verse 29, this congregation had several problems. It was a place of strife and division (verses 18-19), Christians refused to share their food with one another (verse 21a), some Christians were allowed to go hungry (verse 21b), and there was rude behavior (verse 22). Conditions had reached a point where it was time for punishment. Verse 29 introduces the topic of judgment and here Paul completed the thought: “For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.” Verse 30 is an example of “cause and effect.” It seems some punishment had come to the members of this congregation and more was on the way because these Christians had persisted in sin, some of which was related to worship. The NKJV translates the thought as: “for this reason many are sick.” The NIV says, “That is why many among you are weak and sick.”
Commentators agree about the severity of the problems at this congregation, but they do not agree on the interpretation of verse 30. Some think this passage is to be understood figuratively. According to this view, Paul meant “many” were “spiritually weak” and some were “spiritually dead” (compare Revelation 3:1 and 1 Timothy 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). There is no doubt that Christians or congregations can be spiritually weak or spiritually dead. In fact, in some cases a congregation may be growing numerically, doing what seems to be many good works, and may even look spiritually healthy. Members and visitors may think a congregation is strong, but a local assembly may have lost or is about to lose its “candlestick” (Revelation 2:5).
Earlier in this book Paul spoke of the Corinthians’ spiritual immaturity (3:2) and their spiritual indifference to sin (5:6). He noted how women were not observing the veil custom (11:1-16), Christians were unconcerned with congregational division (11:18), and they were neglectful of the poor (11:22). Members of the congregation were flirting with paganism (10:21-22) and some were suing one another (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). In this chapter we find problems with properly observing the Lord’s Supper. Because the Corinthians were plagued by so many spiritual ills, it is possible to interpret verse 30 in a figurative way (the “weak and sickly” refer to spiritual sluggishness and the “sleeping” represent unfaithful Christians).
It is also possible to understand Paul’s words literally and this author accepts a literal interpretation of the text. Because things had gotten so out of control at Corinth, there were cases of literal sickness and premature physical death. Sometimes people (and this includes Christians) need mild correction and a “slap on the wrist” is sufficient correction. In other cases people need sustained and intensive correction.
God warned the nation of Israel that it could experience physical sickness if it did not pursue righteous living (Deuteronomy 28:21-22). If a husband suspected his wife of adultery (Numbers 5:11-15), the wife was subjected to a process that revealed her guilt or innocence (Numbers 5:16-21). If a wife had committed adultery, she suffered severe physical punishment for her sin (Numbers 5:22-23), part of which was infertility (Numbers 5:27-28). King Nebuchadnezzar had to receive severe and divine discipline before he learned some important lessons (Daniel 4:25). When Jesus healed a man of palsy (Mark 2:1-28), He seemed to associate this man’s illness with sin (notice how Jesus spoke of this man’s “sins” before addressing his physical problem, Mark 2:5 b). Compare, too, John 5:14. While not every problem or physical sickness is a judgment from God (John 9:1-3), it seems wrong to say that physical sickness is never a judgment from God (compare Deuteronomy 28:27-29). Since several others have suffered physical punishment for sin and physical ailments have sometimes been an incentive to motivate people to repent, why would we think the Corinthians were exempt from these same things, especially when we realize how numerous and on-going the problems were at this congregation?
If Christians will not respond to “instructive” discipline (they do not correct things on their own by studying and applying God’s word), God may employ the type of “corrective” discipline (punishment) described in the preceding paragraph. Just as Ananias and Sapphira were ultimately killed for their sin (Acts 5:1-42 says they were given an opportunity to make things right and they refused), so some of the Corinthians may have been exposed to corrective discipline, some of which was severe. In some cases this discipline seems to have led to premature death. Sometimes people need to face worsening conditions or death itself before they will recognize their wayward state and repent (compare Luke 15:15-18).
While God handled some situations differently in first century times than now (miracles and their duration are discussed in the commentary on chapter 13), God still practices divine discipline. Now God works providentially (within the laws of nature) to discipline individuals and congregations. If God can “give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3), He can also discipline us when we need it. If God can “feed the birds” (Matthew 6:26), He can punish wayward Christians on an individual or congregational basis. Just as the “Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:25), so God rules in the lives of His people and this rule includes discipline (compare Hebrews 12:6-9).
Here in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul described the Corinthians’ spiritual condition or punishment with three different words: “weak,” “sickly,” and “asleep.” Each of these terms suggests an increasing degree of severity and it is clear that several Christians are under consideration (“many”). If physical sickness and death are meant, these Christians may have wondered why there were so many sick people in their congregation. In these final verses Paul gave an answer: God allowed them to suffer physical ailments so they would be motivated to repent. Heaven did not want these Christians to be “condemned with the world” (verse 32). As shown in the commentary on 2:14 and 14:20, Christians can lose their salvation and the Corinthians were actively exposing themselves to this possibility. Today it is still possible to be a “back slider” and fall from grace (Galatians 5:4).
The word weak (asthenes) occurs several times in this book (1:25, 27; 4:10; 8:7, 9, 10; 9:22; 12:22). “In the Gospels and Acts it is used almost exclusively of physical sickness. Paul, however, rarely used it in this sense” (CBL, GED, 1:466). The word sickly (arrhostos) meant “powerless, sick” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:158). Here it has the sense of “‘Many…weak and ill’ in the congregation” (ibid). Bengel (2:232) said, “Weak from slighter; sickly from more serious diseases.” The word sleep (koimaomai) is used 18 times in the New Testament. In four cases it describes natural sleep (see Matthew 28:13; Luke 22:45; John 11:12; Acts 12:6). In the other fourteen places where it occurs it describes physical death (see Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; Acts 13:36; 1 Corinthians 7:39 [“dead”]; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; 2 Peter 3:4). Man’s body sleeps in the dust of the earth, but his eternal spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
If in this passage the word sleep describes physical death, it does not necessarily mean these Christians died in sin and will be eternally separated from God. God may have allowed some or all these Christians to suffer the punishment of premature physical death but not condemn them in eternity. Deity is the sole judge in determining who is saved and who is lost (John 5:22), and it seems God has denied people some earthly benefits due to their sin, but has not always taken away their eternal inheritance. For instance, Moses was denied entrance into the Promised Land but he will be with the saved in eternity (Matthew 17:1-3).
If at least some of the Corinthians were dying prematurely, this brings up the subject of “death bed repentance.” What if some of the Corinthians got sicker and sicker and repented just prior to their death? Could they have been saved? A basic answer to this question is found in 2 Peter 3:9 (God wants all to repent; He does not want anyone to be lost). Today there are certainly cases where people seek to repent shortly before they die. This author personally knew of one man who became a Christian and then left the faith for about 70 years. He repented shortly before his death. The thief on the cross died under the Old Testament instead of the New Testament under which we live, but he seems to have made things right just prior to his death (Luke 23:42-43).
While there are some instances where people are given a chance to repent shortly before death and this is surely done with God’s approval, many never get this opportunity. Death comes as a surprise to a lot of people (compare Luke 12:20 a) and the opportunity to repent is forever lost. Because we do not know when we will die or when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36), or even if we really will repent in the future, the Bible says “today” is the “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). We are to respond to God’s word “today” (Hebrews 3:7) and “remember God in our youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
The ASV has the word many at the beginning of this verse and not a few at the end of the passage. The KJV uses the word many two times. The ASV rendering helps readers realize there are two different words in the Greek text, though both words convey the idea of many. The term at the end of the verse is an adjective (hikanos) that meant “many, a considerable number” (Thayer, p. 300). Since there were “many who were asleep” (i.e. dead), and “fallen asleep” (koimaomai) is a present tense verb, it seems many of the Corinthians had or were in the process of dying. Commentators may debate whether this information is literal or figurative, but the fact that several people are being described is beyond dispute. If things were not changed, this congregation would eventually be spiritually bankrupt or numerically empty! It was important for these Christians to remember and apply the information from 1 Corinthians 5:7 (“purge out the old leaven”).
Lenski (First Corinthians, p. 484) rightly noted how the elements of the Lord’s Supper “do not act as a poison which makes an unworthy communicant sick or kills him. It is the sin of communing unworthily which, like other sins, entails the penalty of judgment.” Also, Paul “does not say that the penalty of this unworthiness is invariably physical sickness or untimely death. The Lord alone decides what the penalty shall be. In Corinth the penalty is as Paul states it” (ibid).
However we choose to understand the punishment in this verse, it must be remembered, as noted in the commentary on verse 29, that Paul had in mind discipline for repeated sins (eating, drinking, and discerning in verse 29 are all present tense verbs). Verse 30 does not describe punishment for a “one time sin” (verse 29). While this fact is not a license to sin from time to time, it does tell us that in cases where we are not fully concentrating on worship, God is gracious enough to not immediately lash out and dispense punishment. God gives us the opportunity to confess that wrong, repent of it, and do better the next time.
11:31-32: But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
At the beginning of verse 31 Paul spoke of God’s people “judging” (diakrino) themselves. This is an imperfect tense (continuous action) verb and it is translated “discerned” in the ASV. Paul also used this verb in verse 29. Here the word has the sense of “judging” (Turner, p. 118). It means Christians should continually examine whether they are thinking about things like Jesus and fellow Christians, if their actions in worship are proper, and if their commitment to God is as the New Testament describes.
At the end of verse 31 the ASV and KJV both use the word “judged” but this is a different (but related) word. This second term (krino) is also an imperfect tense verb; when discerned is combined with the word judged, the full sense of the thought is: “God would not continually judge the Corinthians if these Christians continually judged themselves.” Gromacki (p. 145) described the thought as: “Self-examination will prevent the judgment of God.” Paul “stated this truth in a conditional, contrary-to-face sentence. The fact of the matter is that the Corinthians were not judging themselves” (ibid).
Since the Corinthians failed to examine themselves (compare verse 28 in the KJV and remember that examine in this verse is a continuous action verb), God had to intervene with punishment (verse 30). If people will not watch over their own spiritual lives, and they refuse to let elders help them make needed corrections (Hebrews 13:17), God will “chasten” them (verse 32a). God is “love” (1 John 4:16), but a time comes when love causes people to take corrective action (Genesis 6:3; Genesis 6:7). Verses 31-32 also serve as stern warning to those who often judge others but refuse to engage in self-examination and self-judgment. We must be willing to judge ourselves on a regular basis and do this voluntarily and truthfully or God may judge and discipline us.
Chastened (paideuo) in verse 32 was often used to describe the upbringing of a child (Hebrews 12:7). It described “a means of developing and refining the mind and the will” (CBL, GED, 4:27). Thayer (p. 473) defined chastened as “chasten by the infliction of evils and calamities.” These calamities can involve physical afflictions or even physical death (verse 30). Since chastened is a present tense verb (on-going action), God’s judgment on His people can be long-lasting. It can also grow in severity (see again the comments on weak, sickly, and not a few sleep in verse 30). The reason for divine discipline is found in 32b. God corrects His people so they will not be “condemned with the world.”
The unsaved may think it is cruel to allow a person to be afflicted to the point where death is a possibility or becomes a reality, but God does not view things in this manner. Jesus once asked what we would “exchange” for our eternal spirit (Mark 8:37) and we may ask some similar questions. Is it not better to leave this earthly life a few years early rather than spend eternity in hell? If we believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:29 (“And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell”), would it not be profitable for our physical health to be diminished or we experience a premature death so our whole body is not cast not into hell? God chastens His people because He loves them and wants them to be saved. God does not chastise the world. As Bengel (2:232) said, “There is sure condemnation therefore for the world, since it is without chastisement.”
The end of verse 32 is conclusive proof that Christians can not only be chastened, they can be “condemned” (katakrino). Brown (2:365) defined this as “Divine condemnation, issuing as the word implies, in damnation.” Stated another way, a wayward Christian should expect to receive divine correction if such is necessary because unfaithfulness can result in a Christian being eternally condemned. If a Christian cannot lose his salvation (some believe in the “once saved, always saved” theory), why should God correct him? It is because Christians can be “severed” from Christ (Galatians 5:4, ASV) that God uses discipline to keep His people on the right path. For more information on Christians and the possibility of apostasy, see the commentary on 2:14 and 14:20.
God can and God does “judge” (a present tense verb) His people (32a). Judged is the same word used at the end of verse 31. God wants us to judge ourselves (verse 31), but if Christians will not do this, God will take action and He does this for our benefit. God is like a parent with a disobedient child. Although some think it is unloving to correct bad behavior, the Bible teaches that correction is actually a demonstration of love. God judges and corrects His people so they will not be condemned (katakrino) with the unsaved. Condemned meant “God’s condemnation” (Gingrich and Danker, p. 412) and “God condemning one to eternal misery” (Thayer, p. 332). Divine punishment and eternal condemnation are not idle threats. We may summarize these two verses with three main points. (1) Believers should judge themselves. (2) If Christians do not judge themselves, God will judge and then discipline His people so they are motivated to return to Him (Hebrews 12:6-9). (3) Christians who do not respond to God’s chastisements will one day be condemned with the world.
11:33-34: Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait one for another. 34 If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment. And the rest will I set in order whensoever I come.
It was imperative for these Christians to “wait” for one another when they “came together to eat” (verse 33). In this day and time the means of telling time were not “what they are today. One could not announce that next Lord’s Day at 10 A.M. they would remember the Lord, and expect everyone to be there on time. Most believers had no means of telling the exact time. Consequently there might be a great difference in time of arrival. They were not to rush ahead before all were there, but to wait for one another” (Nieboer, How to Get Along with Other Christians, p. 79).
Church potlucks should have been a “group meal” and the Lord’s Supper should have been a “family meal” (compare 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the commentary on 10:16b and 10:17), but some Christians (presumably the poor and perhaps slaves) were being excluded from the fellowship meals and perhaps the Lord’s Supper. Although Paul tempered these closing comments with the word “brethren” (James did a similar thing-compare James 1:2; James 1:16; James 1:19; James 2:1; James 2:5; James 2:14; James 3:1; James 3:10; James 3:12; James 4:11; James 5:7; James 5:9-10; James 5:12; James 5:19), there were serious problems associated with the Corinthian assemblies and these issues had to be corrected. These final two verses also remind us of how the Corinthians’ problems were related to the manner in which they met and worshipped, not the place at which they met for worship. For a further discussion of this point see the Introduction to 11:22 and eating in a church building. Today some congregations still have problems regarding the manner in which they meet and these problems need to be identified and corrected.
Commentators have differing ideas about the “eating” in verses 33-34. Some think Paul described the Lord’s Supper and others believe he had in mind a common meal. This author understands verse 33 as a general reference to Sunday worship: Christians came together on Sunday and were supposed to wait for one another and do all things together. It was not wrong for members (perhaps the wealthy) to bring food for a potluck, but it was wrong to eat this food before everyone else arrived. If the Lord’s Supper was being observed before everyone was present, this was also wrong. The primary point seems to involve church potlucks because of the words “eat at home” in verse 34. If Paul was only thinking of the Lord’s Supper, the command to “eat at home” would mean “worship at home.” Readers may wish to refer back to the comments on “a unified congregation” and “epi to auto” in 11:20b.
If Christians were “hungry” (verse 34) they had two choices: “wait one for another” (verse 33) or “eat at home” (verse 34). Since “hungry” and “eat” are both present tense verbs, it seems Christians repeatedly overlooked certain members of the congregation (this was an on-going issue). Rudeness on one or two occasions might have been explained as: “We were too hungry to wait for you and my family had to eat.” Or, “The food was getting cold.” Or, “We waited a while and did not think you were coming.” Paul did not describe something that happened once or twice. This was habitual rudeness so Paul gave a permanent solution: Wait for others and then share the food (the sharing is implied) or keep the food at home. When it was time to serve the Lord’s Supper, this was also to be made available when everyone was present.
“Coming together” in the middle of verses 33 and 34 (sunerchomai) is a present tense verb. This word occurs three other times in this chapter (verses 17, 18, 20) and it is defined in the commentary on verse 17. Here in verses 33 and 34 it indicates the Corinthians met on a regular (on-going) basis. These Christians had not stopped coming to services, but their coming together was “for the worse” (verse 17).
Paul’s reference to “any man” being “hungry” (verse 34) could technically apply to anyone who was hungry; given the context, it seems he had in mind a specific class of people: Wealthy Christians who came to worship with potluck food and then ate this food before others (the poor) arrived. The Christians who did this claimed their actions were justified by their “hunger.” Since the problem was a refusal to wait for one another instead of “eating in the church building” (a belief held by some very sincere Christians-see the introductory comments on 11:22), Paul said, “wait one for another” (33b). Failing to wait was another basis for divine “judgment” (“condemnation,” KJV, verse 34b). For more information on God’s judgment of the Corinthians, see the comments on verses 29-30. If these Christians did not judge (evaluate and correct) themselves (verse 31), God would judge and discipline them (verse 32).
The need to wait for one another and function as a unified group of people was so important Paul expressed his point as an order (“wait one for another” is in the imperative mood-a command). In some passages wait (ekdechomai) “interjects the element of receiving something with open anticipation” (CBL, GED, 2:321), but this additional meaning may not be intended here. What does seem to be implied by the word wait is “a proper distribution of food” (Rienecker and Rogers, p. 427). The food was to be distributed to all and then everyone was to “eat together” (ibid). For the other places in the New Testament where wait occurs see John 5:3; Acts 17:16; 1 Corinthians 16:11 (“expect”); Hebrews 10:13 (“expecting”); 11:10 (“looked for”); James 5:7; 1 Peter 3:20.
If the Corinthians did not want to wait for one another and eat with fellow Christians, they were to “eat at home” (this point is also expressed with the imperative mood-a command). The Corinthians knew about the need to come together and worship week after week, but they were neglecting their obligations in the areas of love and sharing (see again verses 17-18 of this chapter). The poor may have been left to worship by themselves or allowed to assemble with the congregation but not share in the potluck food. In verse 21 Paul made it clear that some went away “hungry.” This information is especially interesting when we compare it to our time. For us, Christians sometimes get upset if they are overlooked just one time. Some of the Corinthians were being overlooked many, many times but they still kept coming to services.
Paul closed this chapter by promising to correct other problems when he came in person (34b). “Set in order” is from a single word (diatasso) that is found three other times in this book (7:17; 9:14; 16:1). In 7:17 and 9:14 set in order is translated “ordain.” Rienecker and Rogers (p. 428) defined set in order as “to put in order.” We do not know what all the church problems were, but the issues were so numerous and severe Paul felt he had to come and personally correct some things. He really did regard the members of this congregation as his “beloved children” (4:14).
In the next chapter (12:1-11) Paul spoke of the variety (diversity) of supernatural gifts as well as how the gifts were related to unity (12:12-31). In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 there is information about the duration of spiritual gifts and how they were related to true love. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 he reminded the Corinthians of how the gifts were to be used in worship. God not only gave the first century Christians spiritual gifts, He regulated their use.
It seems some and perhaps much of the worship at Corinth was chaotic. Some made false statements while claiming to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (compare 12:3), just as people today do. Another problem involved tongue speaking. The Corinthians elevated the gift of tongues above most or all other spiritual gifts and seemed to forget that the spiritual gifts were interconnected (compare 12:14-17). A third problem was a lack of love. The Corinthians failed to combine the gifts with love.
One of the root causes for the Corinthians’ problems was rivalry. Competition and jealousy helped create and sustain the splits and cliques in this congregation. Rivalry existed during the love feasts (the rich were seemingly pitted against the poor and possibly the slaves were aligned against the free) and there was rivalry over spiritual gifts-Christians became competitive about the gift they possessed. The more flamboyant the spiritual gift, the higher the Corinthians rated that special ability and the person who possessed it. Today when there is competiveness in the church, there will also be problems. Christians need to realize that God’s people are partners, not competitors (compare 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Modern congregations face many of the other problems faced by the Corinthians, some of which are in the area of worship. It is for this reason that the following “thoughts on worship” are offered.
Some thoughts on worship:
In virtually every culture and every age (compare Genesis 4:3), man has expressed a desire to worship someone or something. There is an innate desire for worship because God installed this desire in humanity (Ecclesiastes 3:11 a, “he hath set eternity in their heart”). In some cases people have resorted to worshipping “unknown gods” (Acts 17:23). Man not only has a natural desire to worship, he is the only creature on the earth who has the privilege of worship.
Many have worshipped the one true God, but they have not always worshipped Him in the same way. Before the Mosaic covenant was instituted, people such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worshipped under a patriarchal system (compare Hebrews 1:1). In Hosea 6:7 we learn that God had a “covenant” with Adam. Although we do not have much information about this covenant, it seems the agreement with Adam and any of God’s other early agreements with man included information about worship (compare Genesis 4:3-4). When the Hebrew people were freed from Egyptian bondage, a new system of worship was given. Those who worshipped under this new way included Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, the Hebrew nation, a long list of prophets, Jesus, and for a time, the apostles.
Jeremiah promised that a time would come when God would offer a “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31); part of this new agreement would be a new way of worship. Jesus said His “blood” would be used to inaugurate this new agreement (Matthew 26:28) and He was right. Paul explained this point in slightly different terms. In Colossians 2:14 he said Jesus’ death “nailed the Old Testament to the cross.” Paul also said “the law” (the Old Testament system) was to exist “till the seed came” (Galatians 3:19). He then identified this seed as Christ (Galatians 3:16). Since Jesus (the promised seed) has come, “the law” (and this includes all the Old Testament regulations about worship) has been removed. Paul illustrated this point in Romans 7:1-4 by appealing to a married woman: Just as it would be wrong for a woman to be married to two men at the same time, so people cannot be joined to both the Old Testament and the New Testament at the same time. We can be only under one divine covenant at a time. Since the Old Testament has been removed, we must solely follow the New Testament. We may “learn” from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4)-the Old Testament teaches us about the need to be obedient, how God rewards faithfulness and unfaithfulness, etc.-but our worship and way of life is strictly based on New Testament teaching. As Paul said in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth.”
God has always regulated man’s worship. When Moses delivered the Old Testament to the nation of Israel, God ensured the people had everything they needed to properly love and serve Him. God also gave His people special gifts to help them worship (Exodus 31:1-11; Exodus 35:25; Exodus 35:30-35; 1 Kings 7:13-14; 1 Chronicles 28:11-21). In the first century, when the New Testament was instituted, God again provided His people with special gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40). Supernatural abilities allowed Christians to demonstrate that Christianity is now the right way to serve God (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:4). These gifts also allowed various Christians to help construct the New Testament Scriptures. God’s special help for people from now until the end of time is the Bible, especially the New Testament. The New Testament Scriptures are “complete in every way” (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:17) and are “God’s power to salvation” (Romans 1:16). Paul also called them the Holy Spirit’s “sword” (Ephesians 6:17) that is very “sharp” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Bible offers several simple facts about worship, some of which are these: “(a) Worship must be submitted to deity alone (Matthew 4:10); neither angels (Revelation 19:10) nor ordinary men (Acts 10:25-26) are worthy of worship. Because God is a ‘spirit’ being (John 4:24), humans are not permitted to worship him by the use of material objects, e.g., images (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 15:1-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-22; Deuteronomy 17:1-20; Deuteronomy 18:1-22). The fact that Christ was worshipped, and that he accepted such adoration, is an unanswerable argument for his deity (Matthew 8:2; Matthew 9:18; Matthew 14:33). (b) Worship to God must be rendered with utmost sincerity (Joshua 24:14; John 4:24), not hypocritically (Matthew 15:7-9), for the purpose of show (Matthew 6:1 ff), or arrogantly (Luke 18:10 ff). (c) Worship must follow a prescribed procedure, that of ‘truth’ (John 4:24), which means in accordance with God’s word (John 17:17). Ignorant worship will not be accepted (Acts 17:23)” (Bible Words and Theological Terms Made Easy, p. 195).
The preceding information reminds us worship is not about us; it is about honoring God (compare Psalms 100:3). Selfish and ignorant people often make worship about themselves. In some places worship seems to be “How Great We Are” instead of “How Great Thou Art.” Proper and acceptable worship means we come before God in the way the New Testament describes and acknowledge who He is. In Psalms 95:6-7 we read: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah our maker: For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, oh that ye would hear his voice!”
Another passage in the Old Testament that provides us with a proper view of worship is Deuteronomy 16:16: “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before Jehovah thy God in the place which he shall choose: in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles; and they shall not appear before Jehovah empty” (readers may also wish to compare Matthew 5:23 -offer thy gift). God expects people to worship and worship is a time to give. Today many who come to worship expect to receive. Worship is more about giving than taking (compare Hebrews 13:15). Even the wise-men who came to visit Jesus came to give instead of get (Matthew 2:1-2). We may not have the gold, incense and myrrh these men had (and the Bible does not say there were three wise-men), but we can offer our heart, will, worship and life to God.
Implied in the preceding paragraph is the fact that true worship requires intent (compare Psalms 95:2). Contrary to the idea that everything in life is worship (this is a false view that has sometimes been taught), worship requires intent. Christians can certainly “glorify God with good works” (Matthew 5:16), but good works are not synonymous with worship. In many places the Bible affirms that worship is a specific act and an act that requires intent. This point is seen in the life of Abraham (Genesis 22:5), Joshua (Joshua 5:14), Gideon (Judges 7:15), Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:1-3; 1 Samuel 1:19), Jeroboam and the ten northern tribes (1 Kings 12:30), Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and others in Babylon (Daniel 3:1-7), the wise men who came to see Jesus (Matthew 2:2), an unnamed eunuch (Acts 8:27), Jesus and Satan (Matthew 4:9), and the apostle John (Revelation 19:10). These illustrations not only prove that everything in life is not worship, they prove that Christians cannot wander into an assembly of Christians, passively sit through the worship service, and be counted as a true worshipper. Worship requires purpose and action.
Because worship requires purpose and action, it must never be regarded as a “spectator sport” or a performance. Too many people have come to regard worship as entertainment; in many large congregations or in situations where people watch a worship service from their home, many see worship as something done for them and this is wrong. Some not only watch instead of worship, they “rate” the service. People may score how well the song leader did as he led the congregation in song. They may evaluate who led the best prayer or judge the preacher’s sermon instead of considering the content of the message. When people concentrate on the minister instead of the message, they have a wrong focus. Those who concentrate on who dressed the best (or worst) instead of thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross came for the wrong reason. It has been said that Americans “worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” Sadly, this is often a true saying. Many have turned “Sunday” into “Funday” and leave a religious assembly saying things like, “It was sure a good show today.”
When worship takes the form of entertainment or a performance, it is not worship. True worship is a reverent activity-a time when worshippers come before God and honor Him in humility, truth, obedience and love. Just as we must discern the body in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:29), so we need to be discerning in every aspect of worship. If we do not do this, our actions will be classified as approaching God in an unworthy manner and we will be “judged” by Him (11:31b-32).
Although God requires us to worship Him in the way He has directed, and this includes intent and activity, people have often deviated from what God has specified. Some do not worship as the New Testament teaches because they do not believe God is serious about worshipping “in truth” (John 4:24). People with this view worship in a way they think is best, but God says this is a very bad choice (Leviticus 10:1-2). Others think worship should be based on what people want. People have also tried this in the past, but we are to “learn” from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4) that this approach to worship is also a serious mistake (compare 1 Samuel 15:1-35, especially 1 Samuel 15:21). Some have said deviations from New Testament worship are necessary for numerical growth; if we just “widen the gate” (Matthew 7:13), worship will bring in more people. Jesus bought the church with His blood (Acts 20:28), so that makes Him the gatekeeper of (Acts 2:47) and rule maker for it (Matthew 16:18 -“my church”). We are only permitted to do the things He has authorized (Colossians 3:17). Some have said people “expect” certain things at worship and we must “give them what they want.” This is also an old argument and God says we must not pay any attention to it (compare Galatians 1:10). Still others want to do “what every other religious group is doing,” but Jesus said the majority of people (including a lot of religious people) will be eternally condemned (Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:22). Finally, there are the “intellectuals” who believe they can improve on God’s plan for worship. Intellectual claims about “new ways to worship” are not new to God; they are part of the world’s foolishness (compare 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19). Also, God says our ways (no matter how intelligent they seem) are not better than His ways (compare Isaiah 55:8-9).
Many of the preceding points are related to a fundamental difference between the covenant given by Moses and the New Testament given by Jesus and the apostles. The Old Testament was largely based on an earthly (physical) type of worship. The New Testament, on the other hand, emphasizes a non-earthly type of worship.
Had we lived under the system given by Moses, we would have seen, heard, and sometimes touched the things associated with worship (worship often had a direct impact on the physical senses). When an animal was prepared for sacrifice, it was a physical object that could be seen, smelled, heard and touched. In some cases sacrificial animals may have been raised by a Hebrew family. Children may have named some of the creatures eventually used for sacrifice. Certainly passages such as 2 Chronicles 7:3 describe how Old Testament worship was sometimes a very visual experience. Readers may also wish to compare Exodus 33:10 and Leviticus 4:32-34.
Rather than stress what can be seen, felt and smelled, the New Testament emphasizes what is “not of this world” (John 18:36). Under the New Testament system of worship, there is no high priest to see and no special place to attend for worship. There are no animals to sacrifice and no incense. Christians offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5), one of which is the “fruit of their lips” (Hebrews 13:15). There is far less pomp and ceremony with New Testament worship and this is often not what people expect or want.
God says the New Testament system is better (this term is used repeatedly in the book of Hebrews), but many think the Old Testament style of worship is better because it appealed to the physical senses. As noted in the preceding paragraph, many long for some type of special ceremony, or things that can be touched, smelled and seen. Many expect to see a preacher wear distinctive clothing, though God says under the New Testament system “all are brethren” (Matthew 23:8). As shown in the next paragraph, New Testament worship is a very simple process. If we truly love God (John 14:15; John 15:14), we will accept the simplicity, beauty and spiritual nature of New Testament worship because this is right and because this allows people to see what New Testament Christianity is really like.
New Testament worship consists of five distinct and simple acts of worship, one of which is giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Unlike the Old Testament system which specified an exact amount to give, the New Testament tells worshippers to “give as they have been prospered” (1 Corinthians 16:2). New Testament worship also includes prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). While our giving is largely horizontal (it mainly affects others-compare 1 Corinthians 16:3), our prayers are vertical (they are directed to God). A third aspect of worship is the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), an act that helps us “remember” Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:25) and “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Instead of being horizontal or upward, the Lord’s Supper stresses what is inward (1 Corinthians 11:28).
Preaching is another part of worship (Acts 20:7); this element of worship allows us to better internalize and apply God’s word. Preaching is to be based on the “word of God” instead of jokes and good stories (2 Timothy 4:2). Gospel preaching involves “reproving, rebuking and exhorting” (2 Timothy 4:2). Although there are those who do not want to hear the truth preached (2 Timothy 4:4), faithful preachers “admonish and teach” (Colossians 1:28) “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Since preaching glorifies God and helps people with their spiritual lives (Acts 20:32), it is both horizontal and vertical. Christians should have confidence in their preacher, but they should also verify what he says (Acts 17:11).
The final item associated with New Testament worship is music. Under the Old Testament system given through Moses, God specifically called for instrumental music (2 Chronicles 29:25; Psalms 150:1-6, etc.). For New Testament worship Christians are commanded to “sing” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). While this point is discussed more fully in the commentary on 14:14-15, here it may be said that singing is to be a congregational activity (one another, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). New Testament Christianity knows nothing of having a “choir in worship.” Since everyone is to be involved in singing, and this singing is also done unto God (see again Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), this final aspect of worship is both horizontal and vertical. There are five acts of New Testament worship. Proper worship requires these specific acts, the right object (God), the right attitude (spirit), and the right way-God’s divine pattern (the truth)-and doing them all on the right day (the Lord’s Day, Sunday). These acts of worship also remind us that worship is not a passive experience-worship is something we must do. When we leave an assembly we should come away with the attitude “I worshipped” instead of “I watched.”
In addition to telling us about “true worship,” the New Testament specifically warns us about worship that God will not accept. We are warned against offering vain worship (Matthew 15:8-9). Vain worship occurs when people substitute the “doctrines and commandments of men” instead of following the New Testament pattern for worship. We are also warned about ignorant worship. Some “very religious” people may offer worship on a regular basis, but if the worship is not directed to the true God or not based on God’s divine pattern (Acts 17:22-23), it is rejected. A final type of improper worship is will-worship (Colossians 2:23). This is a “‘self-made’ or ‘would-be’ religion” (CBL, GED, 2:230). Paul regarded this worship “as freely chosen but wrong!” (CBL, GED, 2:231). Vine (p. 233) defined will worship as “voluntarily adopted worship, whether unbidden or forbidden.” Many avoid what is explicitly forbidden in worship (they will not worship angels- Revelation 22:8-9), but they are not concerned with unbidden worship (i.e. things on which the Bible is silent). This author once spoke with a woman who “played the spoons” at the place where she worshipped. She “had this talent” and insisted on “using it for God.” Sadly, she refused to consider that God might not want her unbidden worship. People often offer unbidden worship because they like it or they believe God will accept it, even though He has not asked for it. Those who claim to love God will never offer unbidden worship for such a choice is hypocritical. If we profess to love God and His word, but we worship contrary to what the Bible says, we say one thing but do another.
Some can worship in the right way but have the wrong spirit (Matthew 15:3-9). Others may have the right spirit but worship in the wrong way (Acts 18:24-28). Still others have a form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5), but this is also not enough. People must worship in the right way (John 4:24) and have the right spirit (Matthew 5:24).
Since worship is a very important part of the Christian life, it should begin in the home. Children need to be taught about prayer, giving, God’s word, singing, and even the Lord’s Supper by their parents. Some families do this through home devotionals. Participation and familiarity with spiritual things in the home will help children be familiar with and participate in spiritual things in the church. Parents help shape their children’s attitude towards God and spiritual things and they have a limited amount of time for this task.
Parents should regularly ask their children if they have read their Bible and prayed, just as they inquire about other things such as homework. It is also important for parents to offer a good Christian example in their home, especially when facing the problems of life. When health or job problems arise, children should see their parents respond to problems in a Christian manner. If parents continually set forth a good Christian example for their children, this will help their offspring be prepared to live as faithful Christians in their adult years. If worship does not begin in the Christian home, and parents do not further reinforce the Christian way of life by a good example (and this includes parents faithfully attending worship), parents should not be optimistic about having children who are devoted to God in their adult years.
There are some things families can do to enhance their worship and teach their children about the importance of spiritual things. One easy thing is “worship preparation.” Some Sunday worship services are spoiled by Saturday night activities-people stay out late on Saturday evening and then miss the service or the Bible class held on Sunday morning. Or, they come but are too tired to properly worship. The Hebrew people had a “preparation day” before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42) and Christians can engage in some worship preparation by being careful about their Saturday evening activities. In addition to attending on a regular basis, Christians should try to be present before the worship or a Bible class starts. Also, the whole family should come together. It is usually beneficial to sit in a place where we will be relatively free from distractions. We can take notes on the sermon, actively participate in the singing, and stay after the service and visit with fellow worshippers. We can further train our children by using things such as “teachable moments” within our family. Some have taken their children outside at night, looked at the stars, and read Psalms 19:1. One family designed one night a week as “Ask anything you want about the Bible night” to help their children know God’s word (compare Acts 17:11). Homes are strengthened by regular private and corporate worship as well as instruction in the home and at the congregation where we worship. God warns us to start teaching our children as early as possible (2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15).
A final point about worship involves attendance. While this subject is discussed more fully in the commentary on Hebrews 10:25, here we may make some simple observations based on Luke 17:11-18. Jesus healed ten lepers but only “one turned back and glorified God” (Luke 17:15). This caused Jesus to ask if “ten had not been cleansed” and “where the other nine were” (Luke 17:17). When the church assembles for worship, one wonders if heaven is not asking where are the nine? If people have been washed in the blood of the lamb and forgiven of the debt created by sin-a debt they could never repay-why are they not always present at worship? If a congregation meets twice on Sunday (the morning and the evening), why do some not attend on Sunday night? If a congregation has a mid-week Bible class, why do some miss these special periods of study? In Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Based on this passage, what may be said of Christians who could but do not attend the appointed times of worship and other activities at their local congregation? Are these Christians truly “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33)? There is more to the Christian life than attendance and worship, but it is hard to understand how a person can truly be a Christian without regular worship and faithful attendance.