Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament Beet on the NT
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". Beet's Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jbc/ 1-corinthians-11.html. 1877-90.
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". Beet's Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 10:33 to 1 Corinthians 11:1. Paul’s own example, as in 1 Corinthians 8:13, supporting his advice. This example received irresistible force in 1 Corinthians 9, which expounded and justified the principle which found expression in 1 Corinthians 8:13.
In all things: as in 1 Corinthians 9:25.
Please all men: not an end but a means, viz. that they may be saved. Cp. Romans 15:2. Else it would be unworthy: Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4. But, to seek men’s favor in order to save them and only thus far, is one of the noblest acts of service to God.
I please all: not actually; but noting, according to the use of the Greek present tense, a course of action tending in the direction. So Romans 2:4; Galatians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Galatians 1:13.
Not seeking etc.: as in 1 Corinthians 10:24.
That they may be saved: the final object Paul has in view in seeking the profit of the many. He wishes to save them: and, in view of so worthy and so serious an object, he gives up all thought of personal advantage and seeks only their good.
Imitators: as in 1 Corinthians 4:16.
As I also of Christ. Therefore, in following his example, they are walking in the steps of Christ. Cp. Romans 15:3.
Paul s advice about the IDOL-SACRIFICES (1 Corinthians 8:1) is now complete, He warns his readers in § 18 to abstain from all contact with idolatry; and, especially, not to sanction by their presence idolatrous feasts. Such sanction helps forward the work of demons: and any pleasure resulting therefrom is a cup presented by demons. Yet there is no inherent defilement in meat offered to idols; and therefore (§ 19) no need to inquire about the previous history of meat sold in the market or placed on the table of a heathen friend. Nevertheless, in the presence of one who conscientiously and openly disapproves of eating meat offered to idols, Paul advises his readers to abstain from it, lest their example inflict spiritual injury upon him. He does not find it needful to mention the case of meat which they may casually learn to have been offered to idols. For his whole argument implies that there is no sufficient reason for abstaining from it.
Notice that Paul disregards utterly the apostolic decree of Acts 15:23 ff, which he himself apparently assented to and in his second missionary journey (which first brought him to Corinth) distributed to the churches, and which enjoined abstinence from idol-sacrifices as one of the “necessary things.” For even the advice of 1 Corinthians 10:28 referred, not to his readers’ conscience, but (1 Corinthians 10:29) to that of the weak brother who gave the information. This disregard cannot be accounted for by a change of circumstances, making expedient a change of practice in so short a time. It rather points to an advance of knowledge in the mind of the apostle, to a firmer grasp of (e.g. Mark 7:18) the teaching of Christ. This does not lessen the authority of the apostles as unanimous witnesses of the teaching of Christ. But it warns us to be careful in accepting, as binding for all time, the letter of their advice in matters of small detail. The contrast of Revelation 2:20 is a difficulty which I can neither dissemble nor solve. It refers, however, to specific erroneous teaching, known to the readers but not to us, and perhaps to such an eating as directly sanctioned idolatry.
Section 19 teaches that our conduct must often be limited, not only by what we think, but by what those around us think, to be right. Else we may lead them to do what their conscience condemns, and thus inflict upon them serious injury. By thus refraining for their good, we are bearing their burdens and fulfilling (Galatians 6:2; Romans 15:1) the law of Christ.
REVIEW OF DIV. IV. Paul might have passed at once from § 14 to § 18. Indeed §§ 15-17, like §§ 3, 4, and § 12, seem to interrupt the matter in hand. But, in reality, they immensely increase the force of the advice which follows them. From matters of detail Paul rises to broad principles, that he may bring the principles to bear with accumulated force on the matters of detail. He thus makes passing details a pattern of the application of great abiding principles.
In § 14 Paul bids his readers consider the effect upon others of their own conduct. This advice he supports by expounding in § 15 his rights in the Gospel, and in § 16 his cheerful surrender of them to save men; that, by the example of his own self-denial, an example well known to his readers, he may drive away by very shame all hesitation to submit to a trifling limitation in a matter so trifling as food rather than expose to risk of destruction those who are already brethren in Christ. Their confident but false security, Paul puts to shame by saying that this unlimited self-sacrifice is needful for his own salvation; and supports the warning herein implied by the example in § 17 of those who fell in the wilderness for conduct exactly analogous to that of the Corinthians. And for this conduct there is no excuse: for God ever provides a way of escape. The destruction of the Israelites in the wilderness gives great force to Paul’s specific warning in § 18 against all contact with idolatry, especially all participation in idolatrous feasts. At the beginning of § 19 he reasserts the great principle of which his own conduct (1 Corinthians 9) is so conspicuous an example; and then gives specific advice based on this principle about food eaten in private houses. He concludes DIV. IV. by reasserting the same all-important principle, as embodied in his own example and in that of Christ.
The principles exemplified in DIV. IV. have abiding and infinite value.
Now, as then, there are in the church differences of opinion about right and wrong: and there are many weak brethren. If we resolve to do whatever we think to be allowable, and to claim our rights to the full, we shall lose opportunities of doing men good and inflict actual injury, shall lose the spiritual progress which immediately follows all self-denial for the good of others, and imperil our own salvation.
DIVISION V ABOUT THE ABUSES IN CHURCH MEETINGS CHAPTERS 11:2-34
SECTION 20 — WOMEN MUST NOT LAY ASIDE THEIR APPROPRIATE AND DISTINCTIVE DRESS CH. 11:2-16
I praise you that in all things you remember me, and that, according as I delivered to you the traditions, you hold them fast. But I wish you to know that of every man Christ is the head: and head of woman, the man is; and head of Christ, God is. Every man praying or prophesying with covered head puts to shame his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with the head unveiled puts to shame her head. For she is one and the same thing as the shaven woman. For, if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn. But if it is a shameful thing to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For indeed a man ought not to have his head veiled, being an image and glory of God. But the woman is man’s glory. For not the man is from the woman, but the woman from the man: for also man was not created because of the woman, but woman because of the man. For this cause the woman ought to have authority upon her head, because of the angels. Except neither is woman without man nor man without woman. For, just as the woman is from the man, so also is the man by means of the woman. And all things are from God.
Judge in yourselves. Is it fitting that to God a woman pray unveiled? Does not Nature itself teach you? Because indeed a man, if he have long hair, it is a dishonor to him. But a woman if she have long hair, it is a glory to her. Because the hair is given to her instead of a covering. But if anyone thinks to be fond of strife, we for our part have no such custom, nor have the churches of God.
By a commendation (1 Corinthians 11:2) and a broad general principle (1 Corinthians 11:3) Paul opens the way to a new matter; on which in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 a he at once pronounces sentence. This sentence he justifies in 1 Corinthians 11:5-15; and in 1 Corinthians 11:16 concludes § 20 with a warning.
1 Corinthians 11:2. In all things: limited (see under Romans 5:18) by Paul’s mental horizon at the moment of writing. It refers probably to church-meetings only: for only of these does 1 Corinthians 11 treat. In all their conduct of public worship they think of Paul and of the directions he gave. This is a mark that underneath the disaffection implied in the factions there lay a genuine loyalty to the apostle. Of this loyalty, the mission of Stephanas and others (1 Corinthians 16:17) was a mark: and an enthusiastic outburst of it was evoked (2 Corinthians 7:11 f) by this Epistle.
Delivered: cognate with tradition: 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Judges 1:3; Luke 1:2; Acts 6:14; Acts 16:4; Romans 1:24; Romans 4:25.
Traditions: instructions about doctrine or practice (here probably the latter: for of this § 20 treats) handed on from one to another: 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8; Matthew 15:2.
The traditions: probably the more or less definite instructions given by Christ to the apostles for the church. Samples are found in 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3. These instructions Paul had, when present with them or by his former letter, given to his readers: and he now commends their careful remembrance of them. This does not contradict what follows: for §§ 20, 21 refer, not to omissions or alterations, but to new practices which had crept in. And Paul does not say, I praise you all.
To these words, Estius appeals in proof that there is an unwritten, but binding, apostolic tradition. If we, like Paul’s readers, had proof that certain instructions came actually from him, we should accept them as authoritative, even though unwritten. But I do not know of any unwritten tradition which can be confidently traced to an apostle.
1 Corinthians 11:3. An important general principle, set up as a platform of approach to the specific matter of § 20.
The head: placed by God above the body but in closest and vital union with it, to direct its action. The same word in Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19 suggests that every man refers only to believers, whom alone in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul has in view. For, although the headship of Christ rests originally upon our creation “in Him” and “through Him and for Him,” (Colossians 1:16,) yet only those who believe are vitally joined to Him.
Head of woman: i.e. immediate head. For Christ is Head of the whole Church. Woman is placed by God under the rule and direction of the man. This is most conspicuously true of husband and wife. But since marriage is but a fulfillment of God’s purpose in the creation of the sexes, these words are true of the sexes generally.
Head of Christ: even touching his divine nature. For the Eternal Son, though equal (John 16:15) to the Father is yet (John 5:26; John 6:57) derived from and therefore (1 Corinthians 15:28) for ever subject to, Him. Of this eternal subordination, the eternal devotion and the historic obedience of the Son to the Father are an outflow. See under 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6. Notice that the headship is an objective relationship on which (Ephesians 5:22 f) rests an obligation to obedience.
Before he warns women not to seek to escape, even in the matter of dress, from the subordinate position of their sex, Paul reminds them that order and subordination are a law of the kingdom of God; that the husband is himself under the direction of Christ; and that even within the divine Trinity the Son is, in accordance with the law of His being, obedient to the Father.
1 Corinthians 11:4. Does not even suggest that this abuse existed at Corinth. For to woman pertains the whole argument of § 20: and, for this argument, since it turns on the relation of the sexes, it was needful to explain the contrasted position of the man. By this contrast, as usual, Paul paves a way to his main argument.
Prophesy: see 1 Corinthians 12:10.
Puts to shame etc.: proved in 1 Corinthians 11:7 a. He forsakes his place of honor in the race, which a correct instinct has ever marked by a distinction of dress; and thus does himself dishonor. And this dishonor is visible and conspicuous in his treatment of his own head.
1 Corinthians 11:5 a. Same form as 1 Corinthians 11:4, giving force to the contrast. Since Paul expressly and solemnly (1 Corinthians 14:33 ff) forbids women to speak in assemblies of the whole church, praying or prophesying must refer to smaller and more private gatherings, probably consisting chiefly or wholly of women. For it would be ridiculous first to argue at length that they ought not to speak with uncovered heads, and then to forbid them to speak at all. On the other hand, common sense forbids us to extend this prohibition to prayer in the family circle. To what Paul refers, his readers knew.
Unveiled: without the peplum or shawl, which Greek women wore usually on their shoulders, but in public over their heads. See an engraving in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, art. Peplum, where a bare-headed man takes the hand of a veiled woman.
Puts to shame, etc. For she deserts, by obliterating the distinction of dress, her appointed position, which is to all God’s creatures the place of honor; and does this by her treatment of her head, the noblest part of her body.
The careful proof of these words in 1 Corinthians 11:5-15, proves that this abuse actually existed at Corinth. But Paul’s mode of introducing it, (contrast 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1,) and the analogy of 1 Corinthians 11:18, suggest, but do not absolutely prove, that he had learned it, not from their letter, but (cp. 1 Corinthians 1:11) by hearsay.
1 Corinthians 11:5-15. Proof and explanation of 1 Corinthians 11:5 a. To pray with unveiled head is practically the same as removal of the hair, which is admitted to be shameful: 1 Corinthians 11:5 b, 6. Reason of this in the original relation of the sexes: 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. A limitation: 1 Corinthians 11:11-12. Appeal to the readers’ sense of propriety and to the teaching of nature: 1 Corinthians 11:13-15.
1 Corinthians 11:5-6. The shaven woman: words well understood by Paul’s readers. There were women at Corinth, the most shameless women who shaved off their hair, to obliterate entirely from their appearance all distinction of sex. With proofs of this, I cannot stain my pages. Paul says that the woman who lays aside her usual head-dress is practically the same as these shameless women. Of this argument, 1 Corinthians 11:6 shows the force.
Shorn, or cropped: the hair cut short.
Shaven: the hair removed altogether with a razor.
It is a shameful thing: point of the argument in proof of “puts to shame” in 1 Corinthians 11:5 a. Human propriety declares it to be a shameful thing to a woman to be shorn: and the case of those women at Corinth who actually were shorn or shaven confirmed this verdict. What is the ground of this sense of shame? A universal and correct sentiment that the distinction of sex ought to be seen very conspicuously in a person’s dress. Now, for a woman to remove her hair, was in part to obliterate this outward distinction of sex; and was therefore a trampling under foot of this universal sentiment of propriety. And, as a matter of fact, in Paul’s day it was a mark of desertion of the dignity of womanhood. Paul says, and leaves his readers to judge of the truth of his words, that to lay aside the distinctive head-dress of women is practically the same. For it arose from a similar motive, viz. a wish to lay aside an outward mark of the subordination of the female sex. He therefore urges the woman who is determined to pray with a veil to carry her own practice to its logical result, and lay aside her natural as well as her artificial headdress, that thus she may see the direction in which it is leading her; or, if she be conscious of the disgrace of this; to act consistently and abstain from conduct which differs from it only in degree. It is now evident that a woman who “prays with her head unveiled dishonors her head.” For, by her treatment of her head she does that which differs only in degree from what all admit to be shameful.
1 Corinthians 11:7-10. Supports “let her be veiled,” by expounding the truth which underlies the “shame” of 1 Corinthians 11:6, viz. that the distinction of the sexes is original and essential. As usual with Paul, the reverse is put first to increase by contrast the force of the real argument, which lies in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9.
Image: a visible representation of God, Genesis 1:26. By looking to man we see in outline what God is. Such, in a higher degree the Son of God, 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3.
Glory of God: an outshining of His grandeur. See under Romans 1:21. Cp. 2 Corinthians 8:23; Ephesians 3:13. While contemplating man, we behold, and wonder at, the greatness of man’s Creator. Glory is explained by, and supplements image. For there may be (cp. Romans 1:23) an image without glory; and a shining forth of splendor without its definite embodiment in an image. The words before us are true in many senses. But here Paul is speaking only of order and rule and subordination. He means that the male sex, as holding the highest power on earth and exercising undisputed sway over all else, is a visible pattern of God and a shining forth of His splendor. Therefore, since a veiled head is a mark, though an artificial one, of distinction of sex and of woman’s subordination, a man ought not to have his head veiled.
1 Corinthians 11:7-10. Glory of man: a manifestation of his greatness. That God provided for him a consort and helper so noble as woman, proves the worth of man in God’s sight, and thus adds dignity to him. “Image” is omitted now: for in the one point Paul has in view, viz. supremacy, she is not a pattern of man. The distinction between the sexes, asserted in 1 Corinthians 11:7, 1 Corinthians 11:8 justifies by a simple restatement of Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:21. Man was not originally derived from the woman, but the reverse. To this simple historic fact, 1 Corinthians 11:9 adds a reason for it. Man was the goal of creation. Woman was created (Genesis 2:18) for his pleasure and assistance. To make this conspicuous, man was created first; and woman was derived from him. Similar argument in 1 Timothy 2:13.
Because of this: because woman is, by the purpose of her creation, subordinate to man The woman ought: parallel to 1 Corinthians 11:7. Her head-dress proclaims that she belongs to the subordinate sex. Therefore, upon her head, the most conspicuous part of her body, the veiled woman bears a visible embodiment of the authority under which God has placed her. She bears aloft, and thus exalts before men, the great principle of authority which is the universal law of the kingdom of God and a source of infinite blessing to all who bow to it. Just so a soldier’s obedience reveals and exalts the majesty of military discipline.
Because of the angels: a motive for obeying this obligation. The absence of “and” suggests that it is a motive, not additional to, but confirmatory of, that given in 1 Corinthians 11:9. Already (1 Corinthians 4:9) we have seen the angels contemplating the apostle’s hardships. They attend upon men, Hebrews 1:14; are placed side by side of the church militant, Hebrews 12:22; and desire to look into the teaching of the prophets, 1 Peter 1:12. Now, if they take interest in men, they must take special interest in those assemblies in which men unitedly draw near to God, and which have so great influence upon the spiritual life of men. We must therefore conceive them present at the public worship of the church. Now the presence of persons better than ourselves always strengthens our instinctive perception of right and wrong; and deters us from improper action. And the moral impression thus produced is almost always correct. To this instinctive perception Paul appealed by the word “shame” in 1 Corinthians 11:6; and has revealed its source in the purpose of woman’s creation. He now strengthens his appeal by reminding us that we worship in the presence of the inhabitants of heaven. For every right instinct in us is strengthened by the presence of those better than ourselves. Surely a remembrance of these celestial fellow-worshippers will deter us from all that is unseemly.
To this exposition it may be objected that a feeling of shame would be strengthened still more by an appeal to the presence of God. But this objection would lie against all mention of angels in the work of redemption. For whatever they do God could do without them. Angels are mentioned, probably, in condescension to our weakness. We can more easily conceive of God by taking hold, in our thought, of those holy beings who, though creatures like ourselves, yet see His face and perfectly obey Him. Hence the mention of angels has been popular and effective in the religious teaching of all ages. Notice also that, after strengthening his appeal by mention of angels, Paul strengthens it still further in 1 Corinthians 11:13 by mention of God.
Tertullian (Against Marcion bk. v. 8, and Veiling of virgins ch. 7) understood these words to refer to the “angels whom we read to have been banished from God and from heaven because of desire for women,” according to the tradition embodied in the Alexandrian MS. (LXX.) of Genesis 6:2, “The angels of God saw etc.” But the word angels without further explanation suggests holy angels: and we cannot conceive such to be liable to be led into sin by sight of a woman’s face; else they would be much weaker, in the matter of sensual desire, than average Englishmen now. Nor could spiritual damage, actual or feared, to angels good or bad, be a practical motive for women on earth.
See further in The Expositor, 1st Series vol. xi. p. 20.
1 Corinthians 11:11-12. A corrective against undue depreciation of woman, which might seem to be implied in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. In the development of the spiritual life, of which Christ our Master is the element, each sex helps and needs the other. Both man’s strength and woman’s tenderness develop Christlike character in the other sex. As in 1 Corinthians 11:3, this is emphatically true of husband and wife; and is therefore true of the sexes generally as originally constituted. It is very conspicuous in the brothers and sisters of Christian families. Neglect of it is a great defect of monastic life. As usual, the stress lies in the second assertion, for which the first prepares the way. Just as in the Christian life woman needs man, so man needs woman. In 1 Corinthians 11:12.
Paul proves this, from the original bodily relation of the sexes. He assumes that with this the spiritual life must accord. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:3. It may, therefore, be quoted in proof of the relation of the sexes in the spiritual life.
From the man; restates Genesis 2:21 f. The man enters the world by means of the woman. This suggests also our unspeakable debt to woman’s maternal care. Paul thus places side by side, in the order of creation, the obligation of each sex to the other. And the differences noted are not so great as might appear. For man and woman and all else have alike sprung from God. Thus, as in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul concludes his argument in the presence of the Supreme.
1 Corinthians 11:13-15. Two abrupt appeals: viz. to his readers’ instinctive judgment of what is fitting; and to the teaching of Nature.
To God: emphatic, It strengthens the former appeal by bringing us into the presence of Him whose voice all true human instinct is. To lay aside the veil, is to obliterate in part the distinction of the sexes. But this an inborn sense of propriety forbids. This instinctive judgment Paul traced in 1 Corinthians 11:7 ff to the original constitution of the sexes; and strengthened it by pointing to the celestial partners of our worship. He now further strengthens it by reminding us that in prayer we speak to God.
1 Corinthians 11:14-15. A second abrupt appeal, supporting the former.
Nature: Romans 2:14; Romans 2:27 : the totality of material objects around us, animate or inanimate, as they exist in virtue of their mode of being, and apart from interference. It denotes here the bodily constitution of men and women. This ought to teach women not to pray unveiled.
Because a man etc.: facts in Nature which teach. As usual, the weight is on the second clause, for which the first, by contrast, prepares the way.
It is a dishonor to him: as a partial effacement of the distinction of the sexes which Nature makes by giving (1 Corinthians 11:15 b) to woman a more abundant covering of hair. So far, long hair robs a man of his honor which belongs to the stronger sex. All attempts to look like women betray an effeminate spirit; and are thus a dishonor to men.
1 Corinthians 11:15. A glory to her: A woman’s long hair elicits admiration. The ground of this follows. The long hair is Nature’s gift, to mark her sex. It increases the womanliness of her appearance. It therefore accords with the constitution of things; and so calls forth admiration.
Instead of a covering i.e. as a natural head-dress. This suggests how Nature’s teaching bears upon the matter in hand. Nature has made a visible distinction of the sexes by covering woman’s head with more abundant hair. This teaches that the God of Nature designs the sexes to be distinguished, in the most conspicuous part of their body. This natural distinction is recognized in the general judgment of mankind that it is dishonor for men or women to assume, in this respect, the appearance of the other sex. Now when men stand uncovered before God, and women covered, they accept formally and visibly by their own action this distinction of sex, and the position in reference to the other sex which God has given. Whereas, if women appear in public unveiled they do something to obliterate a distinction written visibly and conspicuously by nature in the very growth of their hair. Thus 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 develop, after 1 Corinthians 11:7-10 have revealed its essential basis, the argument of 1 Corinthians 11:6.
The rendering “does not nature teach you that etc.” (A.V. and R.V.) is grammatical equally with that given above. But it would make the short and long hair the chief matter to be proved, and indeed the goal of the argument of § 20. The rendering given above makes it merely a proof of what is evidently the chief matter here, viz. that women ought to be veiled.
In times much earlier than those of Paul, both Greek and Roman men wore long hair. But this does not weaken his argument, which rests on a natural bodily difference. And, that this practice was discontinued, and that in nearly all ages and nations a contrary custom has been usual, supports his argument. For this nearly universal custom proves that the race generally has recognized the meaning of the greater abundance of woman’s hair.
1 Corinthians 11:16. Reveals the probable source or support of the practice objected to.
Thinks: looks upon himself, and with approval, as one fond of strife. But strife is opposed to an abiding custom of the apostles and of the churches of God. This warning suggests that, from a boasted love of strife, some defended the women who rejected the head-dress. To such Paul says that in loving strife they stand alone among the churches.
REVIEW of § 20. Paul cannot pronounce what is virtually a censure without remembering his readers’ care to follow his directions in all matters of worship. To his implied censure he paves a way by stating the great principle that subordination is a rule of the kingdom of God, one extending even to the Eternal Trinity. This suggests, and the tenor of the whole section implies that the real source of the evil before us was a desire of some Christian women to claim equality with men. This claim Paul meets by reminding us that in the order and purpose of creation woman was made subordinate to man; and says that upon this original distinction rests the universally admitted obligation that the sexes be visibly distinguished in dress. His readers’ instinctive sense of the propriety of this, he seeks to strengthen by reminding them that they worship in the presence of angels and that in their prayer they draw near to God; and by pointing to the shameless women who obliterated still further than the women in question the visible mark of their sex, and who did so evidently because they had deserted the dignity of womanhood. To the propriety of the visible distinction of the sexes, even Nature bears witness, by giving to women a more abundant covering. But, while insisting thus upon the subordinate position of woman, Paul declares that, in the spiritual life as in the order of Nature, neither sex is independent of the other. That he treats so seriously a matter apparently so trivial, warns us that in the Christian life even small defects may be serious; either as implying forgetfulness of important principles, or as first steps in a dangerous path.
From this section we learn that whatever is purely human, i.e. whatever is older than man’s sin, is not set aside, but is glorified, by Christ in the Christian life. We learn also the value of our instinctive sense of right and wrong; and that it is strengthened and purified by study of the great truths objectively revealed, and by thought of the presence with us of those heavenly beings who do perfectly and always the will of God and of the presence of Him before whom even angels veil their faces.
SECTION 21 — THE LORD’S SUPPER MUST BE RECEIVED IN A MANNER SUITABLE TO THE SOLEMN TRUTHS THEREIN SET FORTH CH. 11:17-34
But, while giving this charge, I do not praise you that not for the better but for the worse you come together. For, in the first place, when you come together in church-meeting, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in some part I believe it. For there must needs be even sects among you, in order that the proved ones may become evident among you. When then you come together to the same place, there is no eating the Lord’s Supper. For, his own supper each one takes beforehand in the eating; and one is hungry and another is drunken. Have you not (is this the reason?) houses for eating and drinking? Or, the church of God do you despise, and put to shame those that have not? What am I to say to you? Am I to praise you? In this matter I give no praise.
For, as to myself I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was being betrayed took bread, and, having given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this for the remembering of me.” In the same way also the cup, after having taken supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, for the remembering of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you announce the death of the Lord, till He come. So then, whoever may eat the bread or may drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a man prove himself, and thus let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks for himself judgment, if he do not recognize the body. Because of this, among you, are many sick and weak ones, and some sleep. But if we recognized ourselves we should not be judged. But being judged, by the Lord we are chastised, in order that we may not be condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait one for another; if any one is hungry, let him eat at home: in order that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters, whenever I come, I will set in order.
A second disorder at church-meetings, viz. improper conduct at the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 : the facts and purpose of the institution of the Supper, and the proper way of receiving it, 1 Corinthians 11:22-32: exhortation to better conduct, 1 Corinthians 11:33-34.
1 Corinthians 11:17. This charge: probably the very strong charge implied in § 20, viz. that women do not lay aside the veil. For 1 Corinthians 11:17 b contains no definite charge; and 1 Corinthians 11:22 is too distant. Paul prefaced his charge in § 20 with words of praise. He now tells us that his praise does not extend to the matter of which he is going to speak, which he introduces by saying that their church gatherings tend to do them more harm than good.
1 Corinthians 11:18. Explains and justifies 1 Corinthians 11:17 b.
First: Without any “second” following it, as in Romans 1:8; Romans 3:2; implying that the misconduct mentioned is not the only one. In 1 Corinthians 11:34 we find other matters which need to be set in order, but which are allowed to remain till Paul’s arrival at Corinth; and in 1 Corinthians 14:23-35, other definite abuses when they come together, though perhaps not sufficiently great as was the matter of 1 Corinthians 11:20 ff, to justify the strong language of 1 Corinthians 11:17.
In church: simplest meaning of the word, viz. a formal gathering of the people of God; as in 1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:35. See note 1 Corinthians 1:9.
I hear: contrast 1 Corinthians 1:11. The news continues to come in from various sources.
Divisions: not necessarily organized parties, but whatever separates brother from brother. They are mentioned only for a moment, to open a way for 1 Corinthians 11:20 ff, where we find divisions at church-meetings based on different degrees of wealth. These divisions were, therefore, probably not coincident with those of 1 Corinthians 11:10.
In some part; suggests Paul’s hope that, though he cannot doubt that the report is true in the main, it may be exaggerated. Notice the courtesy, mingled with seriousness, of these words.
1 Corinthians 11:19. Paul’s reason for believing that there is some truth in the report.
Sects: organized parties, Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 26:5; Acts 24:5; Acts 24:14; Acts 28:22; implying, but more (cp. Galatians 5:20) than, “divisions.”
Must needs be: the defects of human nature render inevitable not only separations between brethren, but organized church-parties. But this necessity is no excuse for those who create divisions: for it rests upon their foreseen and inexcusable selfishness. Cp. Romans 16:17 f; Matthew 18:7; Luke 17:1. These words do not necessarily imply that the sects already exist; nor do they suggest, as does Matthew 18., that they are still future, but says simply that there are, or will be, sects. Cp. Acts 20:30. Notice that Paul does not mention the sects with express blame or warning, but merely as a reason for his belief that the report he has heard is in part true. He knows what human nature is, and is therefore not surprised at the existence of divisions.
Approved-ones: 2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Corinthians 13:7; James 1:12 : they who have passed satisfactorily through the test and are thus proved to be genuine. In 1 Corinthians 11:19 b, we have a purpose of God. He uses the inevitable and foreseen tendency to church-parties as a means of showing to the church-members (evident among you) those who already to His eye are the approved-ones. This suggests that not all the church-members had thus approved themselves to God. There is no severer test of loyalty to Christ than the existence around us of church-parties. They who in such circumstances behave aright are evidently approved.
1 Corinthians 11:18-19 point out beforehand a serious consequence of the abuse in hand, viz. division in the church; and, even in that act of worship which is specially designed (1 Corinthians 10:17) to be a center of unity, divisions tending to the outward and formal separation of Christians. Nearly all sects have arisen from abuses within the church.
1 Corinthians 11:13-15. When then you come together; takes up the same words in 1 Corinthians 11:18, and continues the justification of 1 Corinthians 11:17.
To the same place; 1 Corinthians 14:23; adds definiteness to when you come together, as does “in church-meeting” in 1 Corinthians 11:18.
The Lord’s Supper: a meal provided by our Master, Christ; in contrast to his own supper. Cp. 1 Corinthians 10:21.
There is no etc.: i.e. it is impossible that that which they eat is a supper provided by Christ. Of this, 1 Corinthians 11:21 a is proof. It seems to imply that at Corinth the Lord’s Supper was kept by each one bringing bread, possibly also other food, and wine; and that each one, instead of putting his food into the common stock and thus sharing it with others, used to take back before the supper began the food he had brought.
Takes (not eats) beforehand. Perhaps, before service began each appropriated to himself the food he had brought; and then, after the blessing had been pronounced, all began at the same time to eat what each had previously taken.
Each one; implies that the practice was universal. And, if those who brought the best food took it for themselves, there would be nothing left for the poorer members but what they had themselves brought. This would cause the “divisions” of 1 Corinthians 11:18 : for it would create in the church-meetings a conspicuous distinction of richer and poorer members.
Is hungry, is drunken: extreme cases of this distinction. But we have no right to say that they never occurred. These words imply either that the Lord’s Supper was a real meal, capable of satisfying hunger, and at which it was possible to drink to excess, or that it was connected with such a meal. The hunger of some members in the midst of plenty, and the insobriety of others, were a gross and conspicuous abuse.
1 Corinthians 11:22. Question after question reveals the unseemliness of their conduct. “Is your reason this, that you have no other place in which to satisfy hunger and thirst except that in which you unite to worship God?” This implies that they did wrong in making the Lord’s Supper a meal for supplying bodily need. The next question exposes a special and more serious abuse in this their wrong mode of keeping the Supper.
Do you despise etc.: explained by put to shame. By taking back before the Supper began the richer food which they had themselves brought, and thus leaving for the poorer members nothing but their own poorer food, the rich made them feel their poverty even in the church assembly and thus put them to shame. And this was contempt for the church of God. For it betrayed ignorance of the essential and infinite grandeur of the position of every member of the family of God. To men guilty of such conduct Paul knows not what to say. He bids them judge for themselves whether they deserve praise.
I give no praise: his own solemn answer to his own question.
In this matter: a conspicuous exception to his praise of them in (1 Corinthians 11:2) other matters. It marks the completion of the matter begun in 1 Corinthians 11:17.
1 Corinthians 11:20-22 may be illustrated by Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates, book iii. 14.1: “Whenever, of those who came together for supper some brought a small portion of food and others much, Socrates used to bid the attendant boy to put the small portion before the whole company, or to divide a part to each. They then who brought much could not for shame refuse to partake that which was set before the whole company, and in return to put their own food. They put therefore their own food before the whole company. And, since they had nothing more than they who brought little, they ceased bringing much food.” Probably from this Greek custom arose the practice of church-members bringing their own food to the Lord’s Supper; and from this arose, even in a Christian church, the abuse which Socrates corrected. Paul condemns both (1 Corinthians 11:21 a) the custom, as a mode of keeping the Lord’s Supper, and (1 Corinthians 11:21 b) its abuse. Whether this custom prevailed in other churches, we have no means of judging. At Corinth both the custom and its abuse were fostered by the worldliness of the church.
1 Corinthians 11:23-34. After condemning this double abuse, Paul narrates the facts and words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; explains them, 1 Corinthians 11:26; draws from them a practical and general inference about the proper spirit and manner of partaking the Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; and a special inference about the above-mentioned abuses at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 11:33-34.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25. Reason why he cannot praise them. In contrast to their misconduct, Paul tells what he has learned from Christ.
I received: not “we received.” This implies that in some way peculiar to Paul, not by ordinary tradition, the risen Lord made known to him His own words at the Last Supper. Cp. Galatians 1:11 f. The mode of this revelation, whether by angel, or direct voice of the Spirit, or a divinely-sent human messenger, is quite unknown to us. [Had the words come from the actual lips of Christ, another preposition would probably have been used, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, etc.] But the fact is plainly asserted here. Nor need we wonder that words so important were specially communicated to the one prominent apostle who was not present at the Last Supper. The close verbal similarity of 1 Corinthians 11:24 f to Luke 22:19 f, by no means implies that Paul learned from Luke, or from the same source as he. That Luke learned from Paul, (cp. Luke 1:2,) is much more likely. Notice here an account of the Last Supper unquestionably apostolic, and which an apostle declares that he received from Christ.
I also delivered: (1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3;) emphatically directs attention to the communication, as well as the reception, of these facts. That Paul found it needful to repeat what he had said before, suggests to the readers that the abuses arose from their forgetfulness.
In the night: graphic picture.
Bread: or a loaf.
Gave thanks: Matthew 15:36; John 6:11. That this is mentioned in all four accounts of the Last Supper, suggests that there was something in our Lord’s demeanor while giving thanks which deeply impressed all present.
Which is for you: i.e. “My body exists for your good. For you it was created: and for you the historic facts of my earthly life took place.” But the broken bread was a silent and touching witness that Christ had specially in view the fact of His death.
Do this: break and distribute the bread: spoken probably while Christ was giving the bread to His disciples. Matthew 26:26.
For the remembering of ME; by the disciples present and by His followers to the end of time. This was to Christ a definite object of thought; and was the aim of the Lord’s Supper. The word denotes both remembering and bringing to others’ remembrance, ideas closely associated.
In the same way: i.e. He took and gave thanks.
After having taken supper; Luke 22:20; directs attention to the fact that with the eating of the broken bread the Supper was finished.
The New Covenant: see under 2 Corinthians 3:6.
In my blood. Because Christ’s blood was shed, we have the Covenant with God of which the cup is a symbol and condition. The blood is the link between the cup and the Covenant.
As often as you drink it: only here. These words assume that the Supper will be repeated, and point out the spiritual purpose of it which must ever be kept in view.
The essential agreement of the four accounts (Matthew 26:26 ff; Mark 14:22 ff; Luke 22:19 f* (* See Appendix B.)) of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is a complete proof, apart from the authority of Scripture, of their historic correctness. That in all four, otherwise varying, accounts we have the words This is my body and The New Covenant, proves indisputably that these very words or their Aramaic equivalents were actually spoken by Christ. But, that each account was altogether verbally exact, is hardly possible. For it would involve a repetition unsuited to the solemnity of the occasion. But this does not disprove that the New Testament is, as Paul held the Old Testament to be, (see my Romans, Dissertation iii. 4,} the word and voice of God. For we can well conceive that the Holy Spirit, who, if Paul’s view be correct, preserved the sacred writers from theological error and exerted upon them a directive influence which we cannot measure exactly, nevertheless forebore to save them from trivial verbal inaccuracies, and aided them only so far as His aid was needful for the ends He had in view. Indeed these trifling variations are a gain to us. For each supplements the others: and each is, if Paul’s view of the authority of the Bible be correct, God’s voice to us expounding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In view of this gain we can afford to be in doubt about the exact form and order of the words which fell on that memorable night from the lips of Christ.
We may perhaps reverently suggest that Paul’s account is the more likely to be verbally exact. For the variation “This is my blood” (Mt. Mk.) may be accounted for by the similar words preceding, This is my body. Whereas, the changed form This cup is the New Covenant (Paul and Luke) cannot be accounted for except as being genuine. And we shall see that this change guards from abuse the words This is my body. Therefore, among four accounts, all which have for us divine authority, we may give a preference to that which Paul says he received specially from the Risen Saviour.
How these words of Christ were likely to be understood by those who first heard them, we will now inquire. We place ourselves in thought among the assembled disciples. At the close of the supper the Saviour takes a loaf or cake of bread, breaks it, and gives the broken pieces to the disciples, saying, This is my body, which is for you. They could not possibly conceive Him to mean that the bread was actually His own body. Else He would have two bodies visible in the same room, each to be given for his disciples. And the body crucified the next day was then living and uninjured: whereas the bread was already broken. They could only understand His words to mean that the bread was symbolical, and the breaking and distribution of it prophetic, signifying and announcing that the body now living before their eyes was to die, for their spiritual nourishment. Cp. Isaiah 20:2 ff; Hosea 1:4. Just as we point to a picture and say, without fear of being misunderstood, This is my father, or my house, so the disciples would naturally understand our Lord’s words. And their interpretation of them would be confirmed by the words following. For the cup was not even practically identical with the Covenant. A cup given and received denoted that the Covenant was ratified: whereas the New Covenant was not ratified till the actual blood of Christ was shed. But the poured out wine was a prophetic symbol of the blood soon to be shed. And, therefore, the cup given and received was a silent announcement of the Covenant of which that blood was the pledge. This interpretation, which would naturally suggest itself at once would be confirmed by the repeated words, For the remembrance of Me. For the symbol of the broken body and of the Covenant ratified in blood would recall forcibly to those who in after years broke the bread and drank the wine the memory of Him who died that they might live.
This exposition does not assume that the disciples as they gathered on that night round the Saviour understood the full import of His words and actions. How these were understood by Paul, we must gather from his own exposition of his own narrative, and from 1 Corinthians 10:16-21, etc. This will enable us to test, and will supplement, the exposition just given of the words spoken by Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:26. Explains and justifies 1 Corinthians 11:25 b, by showing how the Supper is a memorial of Christ.
You announce: either by the very act of breaking and eating, or by concurrent word of mouth. Probably the former. For the word announce, used elsewhere only for verbal announcement, is very appropriate to remind us that the silent rite of the broken bread and poured out wine has a voice, and declares in plainest language that Christ died for us. And this silent announcement makes the rite a memorial of Christ.
Till He come: for a memorial is needful only while the remembered one is absent. These words teach us to eat the Supper in faith and hope, knowing that He who died still lives, and will return; and imply plainly that the rite is to be kept up till the end of time.
1 Corinthians 11:27. Practical inference from the words of Christ in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, as explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26.
Unworthily: without self-examination, 1 Corinthians 11:28; or contemplation of the crucified body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 11:29. Doubtless Paul refers specially to those who made his solemn rite an occasion of ostentation. All are unworthy. But they who receive the Supper as sinners for whom Christ died do not eat it unworthily.
Guilty of the body etc.: more fully, “liable to penalty for sin against the body and blood of Christ.” So James 2:10. This follows from 1 Corinthians 11:24 f as expounded in 1 Corinthians 11:26. In the Lord’s Supper we set before ourselves and others, in the most solemn manner, Christ crucified for us and for the world. And this setting forth of His death is a condition (see note below) on which, and therefore a channel through which, we personally receive the blessings which come through His death. Consequently, every misuse of the sacred symbols keeps back from us these blessings; and is thus an insult to, and a sin against, the body nailed to the cross and the shed blood. Similarly, an insult to the symbols of royalty is an insult to the king, and in its measure a revolt against his government. This is very conspicuous in countries under foreign rule. Notice the change from “and” in 1 Corinthians 11:26 to or in 1 Corinthians 11:27. Whoever treats unworthily either symbol, sins thereby against Christ, and therefore against both the pierced body and the shed blood of the Master. But from this we cannot infer, as Estius does, that they who receive the bread only (according to the custom for laymen in the Roman Church) receive both the body and blood of Christ. For, that he who breaks one commandment breaks all, does not imply that he who keeps one has thereby kept all.
1 Corinthians 11:28. Practical application of the foregoing solemn inference.
Prove himself: inquire into his own motives in coming to the Lord’s table and his disposition in relation to the death of Christ.
And thus: i.e. having discovered that his motives are pure, or, having laid aside any impure motives he may detect. This Paul assumes.
Eat and drink; teaches plainly that it was usual for all Christians to do this. Estius simply denies it without proof; and expounds 1 Corinthians 11:28 b to mean “either eat or drink.”
1 Corinthians 11:29. Supports 1 Corinthians 11:28 by a modified restatement of 1 Corinthians 11:27.
Eats and drinks for himself judgment: i.e. by the very acts of eating and drinking he causes sentence (evidently God’s sentence of condemnation) to be pronounced against himself. In other words, his unworthy reception will be followed by punishment. It is therefore, practically equivalent to “guilty of the body etc.” in 1 Corinthians 11:27.
Judgment: cp. Romans 2:27, and see notes.
The body: viz. that crucified for us. Further specification is needless.
Recognize: or discern or distinguish: perceive its real worth and thus distinguish it from others. Similarly we might say, pointing to a picture, This is my father: do you recognize him? Unless, when we receive the symbols we look through them to the great reality they represent, to the precious body nailed to the cross for us, and receive them in a fitting manner, by our very acts of eating and drinking we cause sentence to be pronounced upon ourselves. For we thus sin against (1 Corinthians 11:27) the body and blood of Christ. For the various readings here, see Appendix B (book comments).
1 Corinthians 11:30. Practical and actual outworking at Corinth of the foregoing general principle, supporting the warning therein implied.
Among you: emphatic. You can see the consequences in your own church.
Sleep: are dead, as in 1 Corinthians 7:39. These words refer probably to bodily sickness and death, inflicted by God as punishment for abuse of the Lord’s Supper. For, though they might be correctly used of spiritual weakness and loss of spiritual life (cp. Ephesians 5:14) as consequences of such abuse, yet we must not, without any hint or any reason in the nature of things, set aside their simplest meaning. In the apostolic church the power of God manifested itself before men’s eyes both in works of mercy and in punishment. Cp. Acts 5:5; Acts 13:11, with which this verse is a coincidence. The severity of the punishments proves how great was the sin. Whether before receiving this letter, the Corinthian Christians knew the spiritual cause of this sickness and death, we cannot now determine.
1 Corinthians 11:31-32. A double comment on the facts of 1 Corinthians 11:30. These penalties may be avoided; and are inflicted in mercy.
Recognized ourselves: same word as in 1 Corinthians 11:29, and cognate to judge and condemn.
Judged: the sentence which they who (1 Corinthians 11:29) eat and drink without recognizing the body bring upon themselves, and which was followed in some cases by the penalties of 1 Corinthians 11:30.
We: Paul puts himself by courtesy among the sick and weak ones. “If we recognized our own true character as compared with others and with what we ought to be, (and thus pronounced sentence upon ourselves,) sentence would not be pronounced upon us by God.” i.e. the condemnatory sentence implied in the punishments of 1 Corinthians 11:30.
Chastised: by the above mentioned punishments. This word is expounded in Hebrews 12:6-11.
Condemned with the world: final sentence of eternal death. Paul says that the penalties of 1 Corinthians 11:30 were inflicted by the Master, in order to lead the smitten ones to repentance, and thus save them from the severer condemnation which will fall upon the unsaved world; (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:5;) and that, if they had recognized the true nature and impropriety of their own conduct, they would have escaped even this lighter sentence. Thus Paul discovers a purpose of mercy in the severe punishments of 1 Corinthians 11:30. If the death of those who “sleep” was preceded by sickness which gave opportunity for repentance, even this (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:5) might be in mercy. And the tone of 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 suggests this. Otherwise, bodily death would be, as in Acts 5:5, itself a final condemnation.
1 Corinthians 11:33-34. Practical inference from 1 Corinthians 11:23-32, in reference to the special abuse at Corinth.
Come-together (twice) marks the conclusion of the matter introduced in 1 Corinthians 11:17. That the words to eat are sufficient to specify what Paul refers to, suggest that they did not eat together except at the Lord’s Supper.
Wait one for another: let each refrain from appropriating food till all are ready to do so together, in contrast to “take beforehand his own supper.” The context implies that, when the united meal is ready, the whole food, by whomever brought, must be eaten by all in common. Paul thus corrects the second abuse mentioned with astonishment in 1 Corinthians 11:22.
Let him eat etc.: i.e. do not make the Lord’s Supper a meal to satisfy hunger. This corrects the first and broader abuse of 1 Corinthians 11:22.
That you may not etc.: belongs to both abuses.
For judgment: parallel with “for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17) in the form assumed in 1 Corinthians 11:29. Paul bids his readers, instead of taking before others are ready the food they have themselves brought, to wait for the united meal; and, again, not to make the sacred rite a means of satisfying hunger, which ought to be done at home; lest their meetings tend to bring upon them condemnation and punishment.
The remaining matters: perhaps those implied in the word “first” in 1 Corinthians 11:18. If so, these also pertained to church-meetings.
Whenever I come: 1 Corinthians 4:18 ff.
I-will-set-in-order; implies Paul’s apostolic authority as a ruler in the church. This purpose implies that in various churches he left unwritten directions, which would naturally assume the form of the apostolic traditions of 1 Corinthians 11:2. But we cannot now say with certainty that any particular direction or teaching, not found in his epistles, came from his lips.
REVIEW. Paul has heard, and has reason to believe, that at Corinth the Lord’s Supper has degenerated into a mere meal to satisfy hunger and thirst; and that the church-members take back for themselves the food they have brought, thus erecting barriers between brethren meeting together in one place. He rebukes these abuses by narrating and expounding the facts and words of the institution of the Supper as revealed to him by Christ. From this we learn that they who misuse the sacred symbols are guilty of sin against the body nailed to the cross and the shed blood; and that to them participation of the bread and wine brings condemnation and punishment. Indeed, upon some of their number bodily punishment of sickness and death has already fallen. This, the guilty ones would have avoided, had they understood the meaning of their own conduct. And it was inflicted in mercy, to save them from a more terrible condemnation.
Paul therefore urges each one to put to the test, when coming to the Lord’s Table, his own motives and disposition. And, in reference to the special abuses at Corinth, he bids them supply their bodily needs at home, and wait till all are ready to share together the sacred meal. The other matters which need attention may wait till his arrival at Corinth.
THE LORD’S SUPPER: its primitive mode of celebration, and its significance. That the excesses corrected in § 21 occurred at the sacramental Supper, is quite certain. For, the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:20 can be no other than the bread and the cup of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 11:27. And Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:21, viz. that to take beforehand each his own supper made it impossible for the meal to be the Lord’s Supper, implies that the food thus taken was not merely eaten in connection with the sacred symbols, but was actually that food and drink which ought to be received by all together as a supper provided by Christ. This proof is confirmed by the solemn warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27, supporting the reproof in 1 Corinthians 11:22, that they who eat and drink unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of Christ. This warning Paul applies expressly in 1 Corinthians 11:33 to the abuses at Corinth.
We cannot therefore accept the opinion of Chrysostom, Estius, and others, that these abuses occurred at a semi-spiritual repast connected with the Lord’s Supper.
If these abuses occurred at the Lord’s Supper, Paul’s reference to them is our earliest and most valuable source of information about the primitive mode of its celebration. That private members were able to appropriate beforehand the food designed for the communion, implies that they were not in the habit of receiving the bread and wine from the officers of the church. That Paul did not reprove them for not receiving the elements thus, and did not even recommend it, although it would have effectually prevented the abuses in question, shows clearly that he did not look upon the reception of the elements from the hands of the church officers as essential to the validity of the sacrament. And the same is confirmed by the absence of any censure on the officers of the church, who, if the distribution of the sacred symbols had been committed to them only, would have been chiefly to blame. From this we infer with certainty that when Christ instituted the Supper, He did not direct, and that at the time when this Epistle was written the apostles had not directed, that it should be administered only by the officers of the church. Nor have we in the New Testament any hint that the apostles afterwards gave this direction.
That the sacred feast was looked upon as a means of satisfying hunger and that drinking to excess was possible, reveals how widely different was the mode of its celebration then from that of succeeding ages. Contrast Justin, 1st Apology § 65: “After the prayers we greet one another with a kiss. Then there is brought to the leader of the brethren [
τω ηροεοτωτι των αδελφων] a cup of water and mixed wine [ κραματος] and he, having taken it, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe through the name of His Son and the Holy Spirit, and to some length makes thanksgiving for having been counted worthy of these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving all the people present confirm them by saying, Amen. The deacons, as we call them, give to each of those present to partake of the bread, wine, and water, over which thanks has been given; and for those not present we take them to their houses.” Also Tertullian, On the soldier’s crown ch. iii.: “The sacrament of the eucharist we receive from the hands of none but those who preside.”
The force of the above arguments is felt, and put very clearly, by Estius. To evade it, he is compelled to suppose that the abuse in question occurred, not at the Lord’s Supper, but at a repast partaken in connection with it. This opinion I have already attempted to disprove.
The mode of celebrating the Lord’s Supper during the latter part of the apostolic age, we have no means of tracing. Consequently, the limitations of its administration to the officers of the church cannot claim undoubted apostolic authority. But it has been, as a matter of church order, the universal, or nearly universal, practice of the entire Church of Christ in all its sections and in all countries, from the second century to the present day. From so general a practice, as a matter of church order, few will have, without very special reasons hardihood to dissent.
The spiritual meaning and purpose and operation of the Lord’s Supper, now claim attention. Already, under 1 Corinthians 11:25, we have endeavored to expound the words of institution as they would be understood by those who first heard them. These words we will now study again in the light of the great doctrines of the Gospel assumed and taught in the Epistle to the Romans. And the results thus obtained we will compare with the references to the Lord’s Supper in this Epistle.
Paul taught (see my Romans, Dissertation i. 3) that God accepts as righteous, i.e. He pardons the sins of, all who believe the Gospel; that this pardon could not have been, had not Christ died; and that by the inward presence and activity of the Holy Spirit believers are so united to Christ that His purposes and life and love are reproduced in them. And this we accepted as the teaching of Christ.
These doctrines will explain John 6:33-59, which is a link connecting them with Christ’s words at the Supper. Christ could correctly call Himself in John 6:35 “the bread of life:” for just as bread nourishes (and without such nourishment we must die) only by its own destruction, so Christ (see Romans 3:26) could give us life only by His Own Death. And that, to give us life, His body must needs be bruised and His blood shed, justifies abundantly, and fully accounts for, the strong words of John 6:53 : “Except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God, you have no life in you.” How His hearers were to eat and drink etc., i.e. how they were to appropriate the results of His death, Christ tells them plainly in John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47, viz. by coming to Him and believing Him. And He tells them in John 6:56 that the spiritual results of this will be an inward, spiritual, mutually interpenetrating contact of themselves and Christ. We see then that in John 6:33-59 Christ does but assert the great doctrines of the Epistle to the Romans, and asserts one of them, No. 2, under the most forceful image possible. And in no other sense but this can I conceive men to eat and drink practically the body and blood of Christ.
We come now, prepared by our study of John 6:33-59, and of the Gospel as taught by Paul, to listen again to the words of Christ as recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:24 f. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul tells us that (just as the Gospel is a verbal announcement that through the shedding of Christ’s blood God covenants to pardon sin and to give eternal life to all who believe so) the Lord’s Supper is an announcement of Christ’s death by visible emblematic action. And this is given as an explanation of the words of Christ. We infer then that “the remembrance of Me” is chiefly a memory that Christ by dying gave, and now gives, us life; and that Christ ordained the Supper in order to keep this great doctrine before the mind and in the heart of His people. And for this end no more effective means could be devised. For this doctrine is the only conceivable explanation of the prominence given to Christ’s death both by the institution of the Supper and by the words of institution. We therefore cannot doubt that it was instituted in order to be an abiding monument in the Church of the truth and importance of this doctrine.
Again, the proclamation of this truth is the divinely chosen means of conveying, to those who believe it, the life which results from Christ’s death. And, to those within sound of the Gospel, the Truth is the only channel through which this life flows. Now the preached word gives life only through the presence and agency of the Spirit of Christ, who breathes life and power into what would otherwise be empty sound. Cp. 1 Corinthians 2:10 ff. The universality of this principle compels us to apply it also to the Truth as set forth visibly in the sacred emblems. Therefore, just as in the preached word, in some sense to all who hear it and in the fullest possible sense to those who receive it by faith, we have the real, living, active, objective presence of the Crucified and Living Saviour, so we need not hesitate to say that in the same sense we have His presence in the Lord’s Supper.
Again, Christ has bidden us expressly, at the most solemn period of His life and in the most solemn manner possible, to keep the sacred feast; and Paul’s exposition in 1 Corinthians 11:26 makes this command binding to the end of time. This command of Christ makes participation in the Supper an essential condition of salvation. For, not to eat and drink would be direct disobedience to Christ; and, therefore, a renunciation of the covenant of which the cup is an emblem. Consequently, with exceptions noted below, only by eating and drinking the bread and wine can we share the results of Christ’s pierced body and shed blood. Now, practically, in our thought, we cannot distinguish between a condition performed in order to obtain that which depends upon it and an instrument with which we lay hold of something we desire. Consequently, we cannot but look upon both faith and the Lord’s Supper (both being simply conditions of salvation) as instruments by which we lay hold of Christ. We may therefore say correctly, as in 1 Corinthians 10:16, that by receiving the material elements we become sharers of the body and blood of Christ; and that our entire spiritual life, (cp. 1 Corinthians 10:17 a,) each moment received from Christ, is a result of our reception at intervals of the bread and wine.
Yet the Lord’s Supper is not another condition of salvation beside faith. Rather, Christ’s command has made intelligent faith impossible without participation in the Supper; just as it is impossible to exercise faith without repentance or to retain it without confession. Cp. Luke 13:3; Romans 10:9. For we cannot believe that we enjoy Christ’s favor while we deliberately disobey His word. Moreover, circumstances may prevent us from partaking the Supper: and our reception of it is at intervals. Under all circumstances and each moment we live by faith.
The suitability of the Lord’s Supper as a condition of salvation, and the relation of this condition to faith, the one inward condition are not difficult to trace. The Lord’s Supper is the most searching test of our faith that Christ is actually and supernaturally present and active in the hearts of His people. And, that Christ is thus objectively present in us, is an essential truth, and the great characteristic truth, of Christianity. Little faith is required to believe that a preached word may do good: for the connection between the means and end is evident. But, to expect spiritual good from material bread and wine, implies reliance upon the presence and infinite power of Him who fed the five thousand and made water into wine, and who has promised to be in His people as their life to the end of time and through eternity. Thus the sacramental feast tests, develops, and testifies, our faith in the supernatural presence and activity of Christ in His Church.
Another purpose of the Lord’s Supper is suggested in 1 Corinthians 10:17; viz. to give formal and visible unity to the followers of Christ. Such visible unity was of infinite importance for the continued existence of Christianity in the face of the hostile and powerful influences which beset its early course. And we cannot conceive any means so likely to secure visible unity as this simple rite. To perpetuate the rite and thus to give corporate form to His followers, Christ instituted it at the most solemn period of His life, and, by bidding us observe it in remembrance of Himself, made it practically a condition of salvation.
Again, that Christ commands, as a condition of salvation, a bodily reception of material bread and wine, gives to these elements a mysterious and unique dignity. (Similarly, God’s choice of a spoken word as the channel of salvation gives to the human voice an incomparable dignity.) Since the eating and drinking which Christ requires are real, we may say that His command makes our reception of the spiritual, and ultimately material, benefits purchased by the death of His body and the shedding of His blood conditional, with exceptions marked below, on our reception into our own bodies of the material bread and wine. Christ has thus placed these elements of food in a unique relation to Himself. Remembering this, as we look at them we may almost forget the material food produced by nature and by human manipulation, and think only of the pierced body and shed blood, without which there had been no bread and wine on the sacramental table and of the spiritual nourishment we derive therefrom. To the eye of faith the symbols disappear, and the infinite and amazing reality alone remains.
We shall understand now all that Paul says about the Lord’s Supper. Well might Christ say “this is my body.” For, had not the Eternal Son assumed a human body to be pierced for our life, there had been no broken bread in His hands then. Had not that body died, there would be no bread upon our sacramental table now. And, but for the pouring out of His blood, and but for the New Covenant between God and us (virtual in that night, ratified now) through His blood, there would be no poured out wine. Therefore, as setting forth and implying the most amazing event of all time, and as a solemnly appointed condition of sharing its eternal results, the broken bread is the body of Christ, and the full wine-cup is the New Covenant in His blood. And, as setting forth and implying and bringing about (as an essential condition and in some sense an instrument) a participation in the results of His death, the bread and the cup are (1 Corinthians 10:16) “fellowship in the body and blood of Christ.” In the same way all manifestations of the Christian life are results of the sacred feast. Therefore, the outward and visible unity of believers (1 Corinthians 10:17) is a result of their joint reception of the same symbolic food. Since the Supper was ordained by Christ, it is, with all its consequent blessings, (1 Corinthians 10:21) “a table of the Lord.” Since it is a visible symbol of Christ crucified and a solemnly ordained means of consolidating and extending His kingdom, any indignity done to the feast is done to Christ, and specially to the body and blood bruised and shed for us. Such indignity arises from oversight of the awful reality, even the crucified body of Christ, which the sacred symbols are designed to bring to mind. On this indignity sentence was already pronounced by Christ: and at Corinth upon many persons penalty was already inflicted. Consequently, they who receive the elements without a spiritual view and apprehension of Christ Crucified, receive thereby judgment. Thus Paul’s entire teaching about the Lord’s Supper (and to his teaching the New Testament adds nothing) is but a development of the words of institution in the light of the great principles asserted and expounded in the Epistle to the Romans.
I cannot overlook the fact that some godly men, I refer chiefly to the Society of Friends, set aside altogether the outward and visible celebration of the Lord’s Supper. How they reconcile this with Christ’s words, “Do this,” and with Paul’s explanation of them in 1 Corinthians 11:26, I do not know. That they lose much by refusing, even in ignorance, to obey the express and solemn command of Christ, I cannot doubt. But, if their refusal arises from sincere, even though mistaken, loyalty to Christ, God will not refuse them a part in that New Covenant of which they refuse the visible pledge and condition. And for the loss they sustain by absence from the Lord’s table, no small part of the blame rests upon those who by their misrepresentation and misuse have brought it into contempt. But, were I to absent myself as they do, I should thereby exclude myself from the Covenant. For I should refuse to do what I believe Christ has expressly and solemnly bidden. It is worthy of notice, in view of 1 Corinthians 10:17, that the united influence upon the world of the Society of Friends bears no proportion to the personal excellence of its members.
In the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is never said to be a sacrifice. But its connection with the Jewish Passover reminds us that it is in some sense a sacrificial act. The analogy of the Jewish rites and the Christian rite is very close. The Jewish sacrifices set forth in symbol the truth that man’s salvation comes through the death of the innocent: and, as solemnly ordained by God at (Exodus 24:8) the ratification of the Old Covenant, they were a condition on which its benefits were obtained. Consequently, after disuse in times of spiritual declension, the sacrifices were restored (2 Chronicles 29:7 ff; 2 Chronicles 29:20 ff) in times of revival. Now the Lord’s Supper is the one recurring rite of the New Covenant. Of this Covenant, the most conspicuous benefit is forgiveness of sins: Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 8:12. Therefore, while receiving the Supper in faith, we claim from God the benefits of the Covenant, and especially the forgiveness of our sins. We thus present to God, for our own sins, in our hearts and by faith, the pierced body and shed blood of Christ: for we hide us beneath His cross from the penalty of our sins. And, while we do so, the blood of Christ saves us from the anger of God: for (Romans 3:25) “in His own blood” Christ becomes through our faith a propitiation for our sins. Thus, in the Lord’s Supper we do a spiritual act analogous to the sprinkling of the blood by the High Priest once a year in the Most Holy Place. But, since we do but present to God as a propitiation for our own sins the blood already once for all shed on Calvary, it is better to speak of the Sacrament as a sacrificial act rather than as a sacrifice.
We conclude then that Christ ordained the Supper in order to give great prominence, in the eyes of even the humblest believer, to the great truth that our life comes through His death; also as a means of testing, developing, and confessing to the world, our belief that salvation is an outworking of a power which cannot be explained by, and is altogether above, the laws of mind and morals; and as a means of giving to His people corporate and visible unity in face of the world. In order to secure, to the end of time, the observance of the rite by all His followers, and thus to secure the aims just mentioned, Christ made the Supper, by expressly commanding it, an indispensable condition of salvation. And, since in the kingdom of God there are no useless conditions. He determined to make it a channel through which, by His own presence and activity, He would pour the spiritual benefits therein set forth. We infer that, as in the preached so in the symbolic word, the designed benefits are received only by those who believe. And, since unbelief in those who partake the Supper implies resistance to the truths therein conspicuously and forcefully portrayed, and great dishonor to Him who died even for those who reject Him, we infer that in a very terrible sense the sacred rite is, to those who misuse it for their own base ends, an thus betray their ignorance of its true significance, “an odor (2 Corinthians 2:16) from death tending to death.”
About the Lord’s Supper the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH teaches, (Council of Trent, Session xiii. canon 1,) together with much important gospel truth, that “in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist is contained, truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and accordingly the entire Christ;” that (Session vii. canon 7) “Grace is conferred by sacraments of this kind always and to all, so far as God is concerned, if they receive them with correct ritual;” and that (Session xiii. ch. 4) “By consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a conversion of the entire substance of the bread into the substance of the body of our Lord Christ and of the entire substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This conversion is conveniently and appropriately called Transubstantiation.” The Roman Church guards (Session xxi. ch. 3) this doctrine by teaching that the entire Christ is present both in the consecrated bread and in the wine.
The LUTHERAN CHURCH is fairly represented in the following extract from the Lutherische Dogmatik of Kahnis, § 21. 6. “Luther’s teaching is this. When Christ said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you,” He said, in the form of syndoke, That which I give you to eat is my body which is given for you, i.e. is here imparted to you, for the forgiveness of sins, i.e. as sign, warrant, and medium, of the forgiveness of sins for believing receivers. According to the conception of a sacrament, which is a visible word, the chief matter in the Lord’s Supper is the word of the forgiveness of sins. Thereby the promise of the Lord’s supper is suspended on the condition of faith. But independent of faith is the reception of the body of Christ, which in, with, and under, the bread and wine is distributed.” Also the Apology for the Confession of Augsburg declares: “We defend the opinion received in the entire church that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, and are truly offered with those things that appear, viz. with the bread and wine.” Luther rejected Transubstantiation. But he and the Lutheran Church assert strongly that Christ is locally present in the bread and wine; and is thus received, as Saviour or as Judge, by all who receive the sacred symbols.
But no hint is given, in the words either of Christ or of Paul, of any change in the substance of the consecrated elements. Indeed, even after the blessing we read in 1 Corinthians 11:26 “eat this bread.” The words “This cup is the New Covenant” warn us not to infer such change from the words “This is my body:” and we have seen that Paul’s argument is complete without it.
As proof that in the Lord’s Supper Christ is actually received (to their condemnation) even by unbelievers, Lutherans appeal to the arguments of 1 Corinthians 10:16 ff, and 1 Corinthians 11:27 ff. But it is always perilous to assume an important doctrine not expressly taught in Scripture because it seems to be implied in a Scripture argument. That Paul’s argument does not imply this doctrine, and that 1 Corinthians 10:21 directly contradicts it, I have in my notes endeavored to show. And we notice that in the New Testament Christ is never said to be spiritually present except to bless. We have also seen that, although the words of Christ imply a real and special presence of Christ in the sacred ordinances, they do not imply His local presence in the bread and wine and in the stomachs of those who receive them. Thus, in my view, the Lutheran doctrine falls to the ground. For, its advocates appeal in support of it only to Scripture: and Scripture does not teach it. But Roman Catholics appeal not only to Scripture but to the authoritative teaching of the Church; and thus introduce into the question before us an important and far-reaching element which cannot be discussed here. All that can be required from me as a commentator is, to show that the doctrines in question are not taught in the Bible.
In absolute opposition to both the Roman and the Lutheran churches, ZWINGLI taught (Confession to Charles V. Art. 7) “I believe, indeed I know, that all the sacraments are so far from conferring grace that they do not even distribute it;” and that the Lord’s Supper was nothing but a mode of recalling the death of Christ and of confessing faith in Him. How far this teaching falls below the great and solemn significance of the rite, my exposition has already shown. Yet we need not wonder that to this extreme and rationalistic view Zwingli was driven by the assumptions of the papacy.
CALVIN asserted (Institutes bk. iv. 17. 10, etc.) in opposition to Zwingli the supernatural and life-giving presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, making the ordinance to be a special channel of spiritual blessing; and, in opposition to Luther, denied His local presence in the bread and wine, and asserted that only those who receive the elements with faith thereby receive Christ. His teaching has been accepted, to speak generally, by the Reformed Churches of the Continent, and in the articles of the Anglican Church. And it agrees in the main with the above exposition of the words of Christ and of Paul. I notice, however, that Calvin and many Anglican writers cling to the teaching that in some sense believers actually though spiritually receive in the Supper the body and blood of Christ. But to these words I can give no meaning except that believers receive the spiritual benefits which result from His incarnation and crucifixion: and, to express this by the words “receive the body of Christ” seems to be very inappropriate.
The teaching of the Lutheran, and of the Reformed, Churches is ably set forth in the Lutherische Dogmatik of Kahnis and the Christliche Dogmatik of Ebrard, each of which writers has given special attention to this matter. The Roman Catholic doctrine is defended with great ability, candor, and devoutness, in the Symbolik of Moehler. This last work I strongly commend to Protestant theologians. Only by a study of the best writings of those who differ from us can we understand their opinions and correctly estimate our own.
After all, the differences between the Roman, Lutheran, and Reformed teaching, as discussed above, are not so great as at first sight they appear; and are indeed rather verbal than real. Each doctrine contains important elements of truth. Many godly Roman Catholics cling to transubstantiation as being the strongest protest they can make against prevalent materialism. And even Zwingli, in his strong rebound from papal assumptions, still upheld the divine institution and perpetual obligation of the sacred feast. Luther and the Roman Church assert that, though all who receive the Lord’s Supper therein receive Christ, it nevertheless depends upon themselves whether Christ comes into them to save or to condemn. And Calvin taught that, even to those who receive it unworthily, the Lord’s Supper has terrible reality, a reality of condemnation. So far then the differences are not serious.
But I am compelled sorrowfully to believe that around and in close connection with the Lord’s Supper are taught doctrines not only false but exceedingly hurtful. The Roman Church (Council of Trent, session xxii.) lays great, and not altogether improper stress, upon the sacrificial aspect of the Supper. Now sacrifice implies priesthood: and the universal priesthood of believers is plainly taught in 1 Peter 2:5. But, for this priesthood, the Roman Church practically substitutes a priesthood in the Christian Church similar to that of Aaron in Israel. In other words, it claims for its ministers the sole right of distributing the symbols which Christ commands His people to receive. And it requires, before the distribution of the bread, which only it gives to the laity, confession to a priest, and such confession as shall satisfy the priest. So Council of Trent, session xii. ch. 7; session xiv. 3, 6. By this claim the Roman Church places itself practically between the sinner and Christ; and claims virtually, for the support of its authority, the very solemn words of Christ and of Paul about the sacred Supper. I am compelled to say, in spite of my sincere affection for our brethren of the Roman Church I hope to spend eternity in the One Universal Church above, and while acknowledging our deep obligation to that Church for preserving the light of Christianity, often obscured but still burning, during the long night of the dark ages-I am compelled to believe that the claim of the Roman hierarchy to be the sole ordinary depositary of the benefits conveyed by Christ to His people through the Supper, has produced, directly and indirectly, terrible and wide-spread injury.
So far as the New Testament teaches, this claim is met by the proof given above (p. 199) that neither Christ nor His apostles claimed for the officers of the church the exclusive distribution of the elements. They preferred the risk of the abuses mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:21 f; and even when these abuses actually existed, refrained from limiting the distribution of the elements to the church officers, rather than permit sacerdotal assumptions to have the smallest foothold in Scripture. It is right to say that the priestly monopoly of the right to administer the Lord’s Supper is utterly rejected by both Luther and Calvin. This places an infinite distance between the otherwise similar teaching of Luther and of the Roman Church.
It must not be thought that I look upon the foregoing arguments as sufficient to overturn the Roman claims. For these claims rest ultimately upon the authority of the Church, an authority resolutely maintained with increasing clearness and boldness by a succession of the greatest fathers of the Church and by a general consensus of the Church during many centuries. I have merely endeavored to show that these claims have no basis whatever in Scripture. The question whether we are bound to concede to the Catholic Church the authority which Cyprian and Augustine and others claimed for it, and the immense issues involved in this question, lie beyond the scope of the present work.
The priestly monopoly of the administration of the Lord’s Supper, which Luther resisted, is claimed for the ministry of the Anglican Church by Anglo-Catholics. Their views are set forth with ability and fairness in Sadler’s Church-Doctrine. With almost all he says in the long chapter on “Holy Communion,” I heartily agree. Indeed this chapter is little more than an able defense of Calvin’s teaching. But in his chapter on the “Christian Priesthood,” an element is introduced which changes completely the aspect of the Lord’s Supper. He reminds us that the “commission to celebrate the Lord’s Supper was not given to the whole church gathered together, but to the twelve alone.” But from this we might infer as easily that the Supper was designed for the apostles only as that its administration was limited to them. Mr. Sadler then says that the apostles must have committed to others the power to administer the Supper; because, otherwise, apart from the apostles themselves the Supper could not have been held at all. But this takes for granted the chief point, viz. that the supper cannot be duly received except from the hands of a church-officer. And of this he gives no proof. Christ must have given, either verbally or through the guidance of His Spirit, directions about the details of the Supper fuller than His recorded words. What these directions were, we can learn only from the writings of the apostles and from the practice of the primitive church as portrayed in the New Testament. But here not one word is said limiting the administration of the Supper to church-officers. And we have found (1 Corinthians 11:21 f) church-members actually receiving the Lord’s Supper without official administration, and doing so without a word of reproof from Paul, even when reproving them for other irregularities in the same matter. Thus the claim to the sole right to administer the Lord’s supper in this country, a claim made by Anglo-Catholics for the ministers of the Anglican Church, and involving most serious consequences, finds in Scripture no support whatever and finds there a clearly implied contradiction.
See further, from myself and various others, in a volume containing a Symposium on the Lord’s Supper. (Hodder and Stoughton.)