On the 31st March, 2002 the Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep at the grand age of 101. She had seen the beginnings of two centuries and all the changes in-between. Seven months earlier, on 11th September 2001 almost three thousand people died in coordinated terrorist suicide attacks carried out by extremist Muslims across the USA.
Except for the loss of life, the two events couldn’t have seemed further apart. But strangely, they both brought a similar issue to talkback radio, the front pages of newspapers, and the TV news: whether women should or should not cover their heads.
At the time, Muslim headcoverings became a familiar sight and topic in the media. We heard disturbing stories of veiled women in Sydney being abused in the street because they were recognisably Muslim. Politicians and school principals talked about banning the hijab. And young Australian Muslim women (some recent converts), gave interviews and wrote letters to newspapers about why they choose to veil or not to veil.
But it was not just that Islamic practice that made the news at that time. There was also a “Christian” one.
The Queen Mother’s funeral also raised a fashion and cultural dilemma. An official announcement from the palace had to be issued stating that, although women had always worn hats in Royal church services in the past, this time they did not have to. Women could choose to hat or not to hat. Some did, some did not.
The World of Paul
Chapter 11 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians similarly deals with what women wear on their heads. And to most of us, the issues he raises seem as foreign to us as hats at royal funerals and the experience of young Muslim women. Culturally, it is a world away.
So what do we make of 1 Corinthians 11 in this day and age? Is there anything in it for us as modern Christian women and men? It says:
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, ESV)
1. At First Glance
1.1. Comparison With 1 Timothy 2
This passage is one of six in the New Testament that deal with the responsibilities of men and women in the family and the church. The others are 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Colossians 3, and Titus 2. They are passages that can strike us as particularly confronting, controversial and counter-cultural. But I believe that, although we may have to work hard to understand and apply them, they are still relevant today and so it’s important we know what they say.
Now since 1 Timothy 2 has probably been the most discussed passage in regard to these issues, it is worth making a comparison between it and 1 Corinthians 11. What do we find?
1.1.1. More Difficult
The first thing to notice is that this passage is more difficult to understand. It’s more than twice the length of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and that means there’s more to grapple with and, what is more, the argument is more complex.
The other difficulty is that cultural factors in 1 Corinthians 11 are more evident. It’s a very different culture to ours separated by almost twenty centuries. Things like prophecy and head coverings are not our usual experience and that makes it harder to understand.
But having said that, there are similarities between this text and 1 Timothy 2:
- At the risk of stating the obvious, Paul wrote them both.
- Both are concerned with what women wear and with their hair.
- Both refer to childbirth and procreation.
- There is a concern in both for decency and propriety as opposed to disgrace.
- Both expect women to be present and participating in the church gathering.
- Both teach that a person’s participation and contribution in church is determined in part by their gender.
- Both passages refer to Adam and Eve and the creation accounts of Genesis and the fact that Adam or the man was made first and the woman second.
But despite the considerable overlap there is one significant difference: the command to quietness in 1 Timothy 2 compared with the expectation in 1 Corinthians 11 that women will speak in church as they pray and prophesy. Silent in one, not silent in the other.
But, if we look closer at the Timothy passage there’s nothing to stop women praying and prophesying in church. It only says they are not to teach or have authority over men. The command for silence is only for a specific context. 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 aren’t contradicting each other; they’re just addressing different situations.
2. Tantalising Questions
Now when we come to 1 Corinthians 11 I think as modern readers there is so much that is puzzling, there is a temptation to get distracted. There are things like prophecy, and head coverings, and angels, and long hair and shaved hair and so the list goes on.
In fact, there are so many tantalising questions and distractions in this passage it’s easy to miss the wood for the trees and get so caught up in those issues that we miss the main one. But we’re going to put them aside to start with and look at the main issue.
3. Key Verse
To put chapter 11 in context in 1 Corinthians 11-14, the apostle Paul deals with what the Corinthians were meant to do when they got together for church.
In our passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 he looks at the difference between men and women when they pray and prophesy; from verse 17 he looks at how people behave at the Lord’s Supper; and then in chapters 12-14 he looks at participation and order in worship. Chapter 11:3 is Paul’s starting point. If we get this verse, we’re some way to cracking the passage.
But it’s a very tricky verse, and, since the rise of feminism, you could fill a room with the books written on it as people try to work out what it is saying. At issue in particular is the meaning of the word “head” and whether the English should read “man” and “woman” or “husband” and “wife”. Work out the meaning of these three words and we’re much closer to understanding the passage. But that requires some hard work.
3.1. Two Primary Questions
3.1.1. Question 1: Meaning of “Head”
First what does the word “head” mean? In recent years, those arguing for identical roles for men and women in the family and the church have claimed that the meaning of this word “head” is “source”, as opposed to “authority over.” These people say that, as we might talk about the source of a river being the head of the river, when this word “head” is used it means “source” or “origin”. Understood like this, the two passages that use “head” for men (here and Ephesians 5) become passages about origins rather than authority.
They say these passages are only repeating the point made in Genesis 2, which says woman was made from the man’s rib, which is saying nothing more significant than “I came from my mother’s tummy”. They say these passages are about where we came from, not who we are or what we are to do.
And if that’s the case, their argument goes, then there is no order of relationships between men and women in any context, and any New Testament passage that gives men and women different roles simply reflects first century culture and is not relevant today.
However I believe that’s wrong and that it is unavoidable that the word “head” has the notion of “authority over” and especially so in 1 Corinthians 11:3. I have two reasons for thinking so:
Firstly, an extensive study of this word “head” in ancient Greek literature shows that when it is used as a metaphor for human relationships it is associated with the concept of authority not with “source” or origins. In fact, recent studies cast doubt on whether it ever had the meaning ‘source’.
Secondly, when Paul uses the word elsewhere in relation to Christ, it always has the sense of “authority over” (Eph 5:23; 1:22; 4:15; Col 1:18; 2:10; 2:19).
More recently, the suggestion has been made that the Greek word in question means ‘pre-eminence’ rather than ‘authority’, in the sense that one’s head is prominent. But once again, there is no indication in the ancient literature that readers in the first century would have recognised such a meaning.
In sum, Paul is using the word “head” to talk about order and authority in relationships.
3.1.2. Implication for the Godhead
In this light verse 3 tells us something about the relationships of the Trinity: there’s order within the Godhead, and that the persons of the Trinity relate in ordered relationships. Whilst the Father, Son and Spirit are each fully God, this sameness of nature doesn’t prevent differentiation and order in the relationships of the Trinity. There is a difference between the Father “of whom” are all things, and the Lord Jesus Christ “by whom” are all things (1Cor 8:6)
One of the fallacies of modern feminist ideology is that for people to be equal they must do the same thing. But you can have differentiation and authority in relationships without having inferiority and superiority of dignity or value—that’s Paul’s premise here. All three persons of the Godhead share in the divine nature and yet there is an asymmetry in their relationships. There is equality with order and authority. This is consistent with other parts of Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 15:28, Jn 3:16, Phil 2:11).
One of the fallacies of modern feminist ideology is that for people to be equal they must do the same thing. But you can have differentiation and authority in relationships without having inferiority and superiority of dignity or value.
For God to be Christ’s ‘head’ doesn’t mean that Jesus is any less God. It doesn’t mean inferior status. It simply means that in his love for us and his love and obedience to the Father, Jesus submits himself to the headship of the Father, and seeks to bring him glory in all he does. And it also means that whatever God’s word has to say to us here about authority and order in relationships originates in the life of God.
3.1.3. Question 2: “Man and Woman” or “Husband and Wife”
This brings us to the second word puzzle in verse 3. If you’ve ever studied this passage in a Bible study group, you probably struck this problem pretty quickly. Let me show you what I mean. Most translations have the first phrase something like this: “I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ”. But then it gets tricky because different translations have different things for the second phrase. The NIV or NASB have something like, “and the head of the woman is man” whereas the NRSV and ESV have “the head of the wife is the husband”. Confusing isn’t it? How are we meant to work it out if the Bible translators can’t agree?
The problem for the translators is that New Testament Greek uses the same word for “man” and “husband” and the same word for “woman” and “wife”. And the problem for us is that it makes a big difference to the meaning of the passage. How do we know if it’s talking about married couples or men and women generally?
Now if my 12 year old said to you “I have a really cool jumper” the context of the sentence helps you know that what he means is not that he has a jumper that keeps him really cool, but that he has a jumper his friends think is pretty cool.
In English we cope with the fact that the word “cool” has different meanings by using the context to help us work out which meaning is intended. In the same way the context here seems to indicate that Paul is talking about manhood and womanhood itself—not just about husbands and wives.
Firstly, it would be strange for Paul to suddenly (and without explanation) use the word to mean “man” in the first phrase of verse 3, then switch the meaning to “husband” in the second phrase, and then switch back to “man” generally in verse 4. The same goes for “woman” in verses 3 and 5. In the absence of any indications to the contrary within the text, it makes sense to translate the same word the same way throughout this tightly knit verse, especially since the repetition of words and ideas seems key to its meaning.
Secondly, what Paul goes on to say in verses 7-9 about human beginnings, and verses 11-12 about future generations, only make sense if they apply to man and woman in general. Even though the application might apply differently to married and unmarried women (see below), we still need to see that Paul’s reasons for those instructions come from a general understanding of the sexes.
3.1.4. Implication for Male/Female Relationships
So verse 3 says that the head of the woman is the man. What does it mean for us today?
First, it’s important to notice what it does not say. It does not say that all women are to submit to all men. It is coming at the relationship from the other end. It is about “headship” rather than submission. Also it does not say that women are second-class citizens with less dignity, intelligence, worth and purpose than men. Just as Jesus Christ is not diminished in divinity and glory because his head is God, neither are we diminished because our head is man.
But at the same time it does not say that there is no difference in relationship between men and women. The assumption of this verse is that there is an order in the relationship between men and women that is analogous to that of Christ and God.
Verse 3 doesn’t give us any details of what it means that the head of the woman is the man. Rather, it is a summary statement of principle, that informs the rest of the passage. It leaves the question of details hanging.
But which relationships does this apply to?
It’s one thing to read Ephesians 5 and say that Rob (my husband) is my head and quite another to come to this passage and see that “the head of woman is the man” and then try to apply it across the board.
Does it mean men should open doors for us? Does it mean men should pay when they take us on dates? Does it mean if the boat is sinking, it’s women and children first in the lifeboats? Does it mean only men can be CEOs of companies or join the armed forces? Not necessarily.
What the New Testament does say on this matter is very limited. If the man is the head of woman, Scripture gives us only a handful of examples of what that actually looks like, and only in particular situations and relationships. In the church meeting in 1 Corinthians 11 it means that when women and men come together to pray and prophesy they’ll do different things with their heads. In 1 Corinthians 14, it means that women weren’t to evaluate prophecies in the public church meeting. In 1 Timothy 2 it means women weren’t to teach or have authority over men generally in the church (not just their husbands). And in marriage, it means that wives are to submit themselves to their husbands and husbands are self-sacrificially to love their wives.
Does it mean more than that? Well the truth is it doesn’t say and we can only work with what the Bible says. It’s as if the headship Paul is talking about here is potential headship that becomes actual headship in specific situations and relationships, that is in the eldership and leadership of the church community and the marriage relationship. And beyond that? It could be that there are implications beyond this for men and women generally, but if there are the New Testament does not address them. You’d have to tread very carefully.
Whatever the case, there is no sense that all women are to submit to all men or that women may not exercise God-honouring authority in the workplace, the military, politics, and other walks of life. Women are also gifted and encouraged to exercise public ministry within the church, as we see in 1 Corinthians 11 – simply, in a way that is sensitive to and consistent with the distinctions between men and women that God has ordained.
4. Application of Key Verse
I know we’ve spent a lot of time on this one verse. But as I said once we’ve cracked this verse, then the rest of the passage has a context. This verse forms the framework for Paul’s instructions about prophecy and prayer and what men and women wear or don’t wear on their heads.
But before we get to that, what was prophecy and what were the head coverings?
4.1. Question: Meaning of Prophecy and Prayer Then and Now
The confusion about prophecy these days is almost as hot as the debate about the word “head”. And to make it more complicated even in the first century they couldn’t agree on what prophecy was. Because of this I think it’s best to define New Testament prophecy in broad terms:
- First of all, there’s a difference in authority between most Old Testament and New Testament prophecy, both in the words spoken and the person who spoke them.
- It was clearly public and verbal.
- If it was genuine it was encouraging and pointed to the truth of the gospel (1 Cor 14:24)
- Both men and women could prophesy in the church gathering—unlike teaching, which women and men who were not gifted as teachers were not to do (1 Tim 2-3).
- The gift was under the control of the speaker. It was not involuntary or ecstatic.
In the Old Testament disobedience to the word of a prophet was equal to disobeying God, with correspondingly serious consequences, but in the New Testament that isn’t so (e.g., Acts 21:10-14).
In the Old Testament a false prophet was stoned but in the New, prophecies were weighed (1 Cor 14, 1 Thess 5) and even if a prophecy was rejected, the prophet him or herself lived to see another day.
This diminished authority is why I take it, women were allowed to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11 in the public church meeting, but not weigh prophecies in 1 Corinthians 14 or teach and have authority over men in 1 Timothy 2.
Now the question I hear you asking is: do we have it today? I think we do.
A few years ago at our church a woman missionary got up and shared with the congregation what was happening with her work as a missionary doctor in a government-run orphanage in Eastern Europe. She spoke for about 10 minutes.
When she finished I lent over and said to Rob “that was the closest thing to prophecy I’ve ever heard”. It was encouraging. It was public. It was focused on the gospel and what God was doing in her life and through her. It was absolutely inspiring. I think we all learnt things about God’s faithfulness and suffering for the sake of the gospel, but there was no sense in which it replaced the sermon.
Now I don’t know if the Corinthians would have called it prophecy but it fits with the broad description I’ve just given, and I think if we saw more of that sort of thing in our churches today we’d all benefit.
4.2. Question: Meaning of Head Covering Then and Now
And that brings us to the fashion part of the passage. What is Paul talking about when he says men are to have their heads uncovered and women their heads covered?
We could fill another room with the books written on this topic and be no clearer in our minds when we’d finished reading than when we began.
Once again, it’s important to work out what the real issue is here. And as it turns out, the real issue is not so much the identity of the headcovering, as what it meant and why Paul wanted men not to wear it and women to wear it. It’s the meaning of the headcovering rather than the head covering itself that is most important.
But to work out the meaning we must first identify the headcovering. There are three possibilities: a garment (a veil, shawl or cloak); an attitude of mind; or a hairstyle. You will find older books expending a great amount of ink defending one or other of these.
However, in recent years there has been a breakthrough in ancient history that suggests the headcovering in question was most likely a veil worn by married women. This veil symbolized the husband’s authority within marriage. From 1 Corinthians we can see that it also functioned as an appropriate and meaningful symbol for Christians of the authority and order of gender relationships.
It was a piece of clothing but it was a piece of clothing with meaning. And that is not such a difficult concept to grasp.
At the risk of sounding very old, when I was doing my nursing training, many years ago, we all wore something on our heads. The student nurses wore white starched caps. The first years had one red stripe centre-front, the second years two and the third years three stripes and lace around the edge. Then when you became a sister, you got to wear these flying nun-type veils which were a real nuisance, but which showed you were at the top of the ladder.
What nurses wore on their heads said something about their authority and who they were in relation to others in terms of their authority. And it was like that in Corinth. The veil in question was a piece of clothing with a well-recognised meaning – and that meaning had something to do with authority.
But why did Paul want women to wear this piece of clothing and men not?
5. Reasons for Application
5.1. God’s Order
The most fundamental reason was that this garment represented the ordered relationships between men and women that reflected the relationship of Christ and God. Paul wanted men and women to look different, because in looking different they would align themselves with the order built into creation—and even the life of God.
When men covered their heads while they were praying and prophesying – possibly motivated by misguided spiritual one-upmanship – they were in effect denying their responsibilities as men by dressing like women. When they did that (11:4) they dishonoured their heads, both their physical head and their metaphorical relational head, Christ.
When married women did not cover their heads, however – perhaps because they were mistakenly taking their newfound freedom in Christ too far – they brought shame on their literal head and on their metaphorical relational head, their husband, because they were in effect denying their relational responsibilities as wives. They might as well have turned up dressed like an adulteress or prostitute (11:5–6)!
Paul wants men and women to dress and behave like men and women, in a way that is consistent with their roles and responsibilities within marriage, and those who are content within the order of relationships God ordained.
The next reasons Paul gives are found in verses 7-9, and for our post-feminist culture these verses represent a minefield of political incorrectness. Let’s look at some of the difficulties.
First, in verse 7 does Paul mean that woman is not made in the image of God? NO! If that had been Paul’s meaning, he would have said “man is the image and glory of God, woman is the image and glory of man”. But he didn’t say that and by leaving out the “image” statement in the second phrase, it is clear his point is about “glory” not whose image woman is made in, because Paul assumed the obvious answer to that was God’s.
Second, how does Paul say woman is the glory of man? She is his glory because she was taken out of him and because she was made for him. Both in her origins (v. 8) and in her purpose (v. 9) the woman corresponds to the man. He was firstborn with all the responsibilities that entailed and she was made from bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
And, Paul goes on, she was made for him, not he for her. This doesn’t mean women were made as playthings for men or as domestic slaves or simply as mothers for their children. It means that she was made for his sake. Her purpose was to help him in the shared task of filling and subduing the earth (Gen. 1:28).
Of course, Paul is drawing here on Genesis 1 and 2 and the very beginnings of the relationships between the sexes, before the sin and frustration of those relationships that happened in the Fall of Genesis 3. For the equality and difference of women and men, and the pattern of our relationships are part of the way God made us. They are not a result of the Fall, and so this is not, therefore, a first century cultural oddity that we don’t have to worry about.
In short what Paul is saying is that the order in relationships both in creation and in the Godhead counts. It affects how men and women relate and it should also be clearly visible. And when that happens, man brings glory to his head and woman brings glory to hers.
But just in case the men in Corinth (and today) read verses 6-9 and got a rush of blood to the head, and inflated view of themselves, Paul brings them back down to earth with an equally important reality in verses 11-12.
You see, there is no sense that men are better than women because in truth neither is independent of the other. They need each other. Women may come from man but man must be born of woman. And woman may have been created for man’s sake, but without her he cannot fill the earth or subdue it. Both man and woman need each other. They are both a gift from God to the other (v. 12).
You’ll have noticed so far I’ve skipped over verse 10. It’s a notoriously difficult verse. Let me briefly outline how I understand it:
- Although the word “sign” or “symbol” isn’t in the original passage, the head covering did function as a sign of authority on the woman’s head. So verse 10 is probably talking about the head covering.
- The authority the garment represented was the man’s, as verses 6-9 have been saying.
- But the reference to angels is a new idea and another reason for the woman to have authority on her head.
- Because it’s a new idea and because Paul goes on to the reciprocal elements in the relationship of woman and man in verses 11-12, I take it her authority is also demonstrated by this covering.
In chapter 6 Paul told the Corinthians not to take their grievances before non-Christian courts because one day they were going to judge the angels. And then in chapter 4 Paul indicates angels are witnesses of what happens on earth.
The conclusion I draw from this, is that by accepting and demonstrating her place within God’s order of gender relationships by covering her head, the woman also demonstrated her place in the greater order of creation as someone made in the image of God who, one day along with man, would judge the angels.
In this way, the head covering is both a sign of the man’s authority and of the woman’s dignity and authority. And on this understanding verse 10 then forms a bridge between verses 7-9 which deal with the order in the relationship of women and men, and verses 11-12, which go on to deal with their interdependence and reciprocity.
Paul gives three further reasons we’ll look at quickly. The first is in verse 14, where Paul appeals to the very nature of things as teaching men and women to have different hairstyles. What does this mean? Is Paul simply saying this is the way things are done around here so don’t rock the boat, or is he saying something more significant?
In other passages where Paul uses this word “nature” (like Rom 1:26; 2:14) he is not talking about social customs but an innate God-given sense of right and wrong. His point seems to be that intuitively people know men and women are different and should look different and that those differences have their foundation in the created order. That’s not such a strange idea; it makes sense that in God’s providential internal wiring of us, our sense of right and wrong corresponds with his intentions for us.
Paul’s next reason is found right back at the beginning in verse 2 where he praises the Corinthians for sticking to the “teachings” or more accurately “the traditions” he passed on to them. Is Paul equating what follows with what we mean when we talk about traditions? Is it on a par with traditions we have like Easter eggs and Mother’s Day?
Not at all. In the New Testament, the term “traditions” is almost a technical term that refers to the body of teaching that was/is the Christian faith. It was these “traditions” the apostles passed on to the churches and that defined genuine Christianity. They were commands to be obeyed—not ad hoc etiquette.
5.6. Universal Practice
Paul’s final reason is in verse 16 where he insists what he’s saying is not up for contention because it is common practice in all the churches and there’s no other way of doing things. This is an argument from uniformity.
Paul is not asking the Corinthians to do something that no one else is doing. He is insisting they remain in fellowship with “all the other churches of God” by maintaining the God-given distinctions between men and women. They are not free to do their own thing. That’s how important what he was writing was.
It’s with these pretty uncompromising words that Paul brings this discussion to a close.
6. Participate and Differentiate
So what do we make of all this?
I’ve only once been to a church that did anything like what Paul is talking about here. Many years ago I visited a church that met in a local school in the south of England.
As soon as I got to the meeting hall I realized all the women had scarves but I didn’t have one so I started walking away, because I didn’t want to offend anyone. But they came after me and asked me back to join them (it was more important to them that I was welcomed than that I covered my head). It was one of my most memorable and enjoyable church experiences.
So were these women right in veiling their heads? Is that what this text requires of us? Well, clearly there are some women and churches that believe it does. And I would say if your understanding of 1 Corinthians and your conscience leads you to that conclusion, then you should cover your head. You’re certainly not disobeying the Word of God if you do and you won’t be sinning against your conscience, for the sake of fitting in.
The reason I don’t personally come to that conclusion is that it’s difficult to apply the text word for word because we don’t know for certain what the original head covering was. And what’s more the things we do wear on our heads today mean something else other than an acceptance of God’s order of relationships.
So, you wear a hat either because you’re sun smart or because you’re dressing up for a Melbourne Cup lunch or you’re going to a Royal funeral. Hats are a sign that you’re sensible or fashionable. So hats aren’t it.
But veils also give the wrong message. My understanding from women in Muslim cultures is that their headscarf is more a sign of subservience and inequality than a visual reminder of the equality and difference of the sexes.
I’m not sure in our culture that we have a single piece of clothing that functions as a cultural equivalent to the first century head covering—a garment that indicates: “I am a woman. I’m happy to be a woman and I accept God’s order of relationships between men and women”.
Brides today might wear veils on their wedding day, but that is because they make a pretty picture not because of what they symbolize, and besides the veil is usually history as soon as the photos are taken, and if not then, certainly by the time the happy couple leave the reception!
But there are things people do (both in terms of dress and behaviour) to deliberately blur the differences between women and men and, at heart, that’s what Paul is concerned with here: he wants men to be men, and women to be women.
And so we need to ask how it is that our culture expresses these differences? We need to be students of our culture. It may be that our culture is eclectic (which it is), and there is no one way of dressing, no one “look” that says it all, but, in a way that makes sense within our culture, we are to avoid blurring the distinctions between women and men through what we wear or how we act.
Besides, if we think the significance of this text for us hangs on the existence of a similar cultural symbol or simply ticking a box on some item of clothing or hairstyle, we will have missed the point. Paul’s concern was not so much about the abuse of symbols by women and men. The problem was what their conduct said about their identity and their relationships.
When we come together to praise God we’re to accept he made us as women and men and express our acceptance visibly, most especially when we pray and prophesy. We, women, are to express our acceptance through our demeanor and our appearance, just as the men are to express theirs by what they wear and how they relate. This will not come easily to many of us, both because of what’s in our own hearts, and because of the effect of our culture upon us. But God’s word says to us today that these things matter to him. Yes, the twenty-first century is different from the first, but men and women are still men and women and God himself is the same and so this teaching still applies to us.
This is a revised version of an earlier article. Further discussion of 1 Corinthians 11, and detailed discussions of the Bible texts dealing with women and men can be found in God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about men and women, (Matthias Media, 2012).
Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, (Multnomah, 2004), see p. 207, citing Peter Glare.
Ibid. p. 207, citing Peter Glare.
There have been significant discussions in recent times about the relations within the Trinity and their bearing on the relationship between men and women. My own view is that Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not allow the theological precision definitively to exclude the essential relations within the Godhead. Moreover, arguments based on the use of ‘Christ’ as opposed to ‘Son’ to argue for a restricted ‘messianic’ or economic reading of 11:3 are strained: Paul speaks of “Christ” as creator in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and describes the end-time submission of “the Son” to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:28. Besides, whichever view one adopts, it does not change the fact that Paul thinks the relations within the Godhead are relevant for the relationship of men and women, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned it. So even if we narrow the referent to the economic Trinity, it does not change Paul’s teaching about men and women, or the relevance of the divine relationship to that.
Because this teaching can be wickedly distorted and misused to justify domestic abuse, I want to say unequivocally that Scripture condemns any violence, threats, or intimidation within the family. Paul explicitly commands husbands to love their wives, and not to be harsh with them (Col. 3:19). I urge anyone affected by domestic abuse, women, men or children, to seek help from those qualified to provide it or speak to their pastor in the first instance.
For example, see Bruce Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. 2003), pp. 77–96.
A. Instruction concerning women in the worship service.
1. (1) A call to follow the example of Paul.
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
a. Imitate me: Paul knew he followed Jesus, so he did not hesitate to tell the Corinthian Christians to imitate his walk with the Lord. He knew the Corinthian Christians needed examples, and he was willing to be such an example.
i. Paul simply did what he told his young associate Timothy to do: Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
ii. How few today are willing to say what Paul said! Instead, because of compromise and ungodliness, we are quick to say, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus.” While it is true we must all ultimately look to Jesus, every one of us should be an example of those who look to Jesus.
iii. In the specific context, it is a little difficult to know if Paul’s words here relate to the context before or after. Does Paul refer back to 1 Corinthians 10, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I seek to bless others instead of pleasing myself,” or does Paul refer to what is to follow in 1 Corinthians 11, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I respect God’s order and authority in the church”? Though he most likely connects it with what went before in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was a good example in both cases.
b. Just as I also imitate Christ: Paul knew he was an example, and a good example at that. He also knew that it was not “Paul” who was a worthy example, but “Paul the follower of Jesus” who was the example.
i. This also sets a limit and a direction on the way we imitate others. Just as I also imitate Christ has the idea of “follow me as much as you see me following Jesus.”
2. (2-3) The principle of headship.
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
a. I praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions: Paul again speaks sarcastically to the Corinthian Christians. In fact, they did not remember Paul in all things; they disregarded him as they sought fit. Additionally, they did not keep the traditions as they should have.
i. Keep the traditions is a scary phrase to many Christians. It brings forth the idea that Christians are to be bound by ancient, outdated traditions in their conduct and worship. But the traditions Paul delivered to the Corinthian Christians were simply the teachings and practices of the apostles, received from Jesus. Paul was not talking about ceremonies and rituals, but about basic teaching and doctrine.
b. The head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God: With these words, Paul sets a foundation for his teaching in the rest of the chapter. Simply put, Paul makes it clear that God has established principles of order, authority, and accountability.
i. Head is an important word in this chapter. Some consider head to mean nothing more than source, in the sense that the head of a river is its source. Though this word can mean this, Paul is not simply saying, “Man came from Jesus, woman came from man, and Jesus came from God.” Though that simple understanding is true, it goes much deeper, because in Biblical thinking a source has inherent authority. If something comes from me, there is some appropriate authority I have over it.
ii. In its full sense, head has the idea of headship and authority. It means to have the appropriate responsibility to lead, and the matching accountability. It is right and appropriate to submit to someone who is our head.
iii. With this understanding, we see Paul describes three “headship” relationships: Jesus is head of every man; man is the head of woman, and God (the Father) is head of Christ. Because Paul connects the three relationships, the principles of headship are the same among them.
c. The head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God: Therefore, women in the Church have two options in their attitude towards their head: They imitate the kind of attitude men have towards Christ, showing a rebelliousness that must be won over; or women can imitate the kind of attitude Christ displayed towards God the Father, loving submission to Him as an equal.
i. The idea of headship and authority is important to God. In His great plan for the ages, one great thing God looks for from man is voluntary submission. This is what Jesus showed in His life over and over again, and this is exactly what God looks for from both men and women, though it will be expressed in different ways.
ii. It is essential to understand that being under authority does not equal inferiority. Jesus was totally under the authority of God the Father (John 5:19 and 8:28), yet He is equally God (John 1:1, 8:58, and 10:30). When God calls women in the church to recognize the headship of men, it is not because women are unequal or inferior, but because there is a God-ordained order of authority to be respected.
3. (4-6) The application of the principle of headship among the Corinthian Christians.
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.
a. Dishonors his head… dishonors her head: Because of this order of authority, it is inappropriate for men to pray under a head covering, and inappropriate for women to pray without a head covering.
b. His head covered… her head uncovered: The idea of a head covering was important in this (and many other) ancient cultures. To wear the head covering (or veil in some translations), was a public symbol of being under the authority and protection of another.
i. “It was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils.” (Clarke)
ii. In some cultures today, wearing a hat or some other kind of head covering is a picture of humility and modesty. In the same way, the head covering had an important cultural meaning among the ancient Corinthians.
iii. “The use of the word ‘veil,’… is an unfortunate one since it tends to call to mind the full veil of contemporary Moslem cultures, which covers everything but the eyes. This is unknown in antiquity, at least from the evidence of paintings and sculpture.” (Fee)
c. Praying or prophesying, having his head covered: For a man to do this said by his actions, “I am not in authority here. I am under the authority of others.” Because God has established that the head of woman is man (1 Corinthians 11:3), it dishonors Jesus (his head) for a man to say this by wearing of a head covering.
d. Who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered: For a woman to do this said by her actions “I am not under authority here.” And because God has established that the head of woman is man (1 Corinthians 11:3), it dishonors the men (her head) for a woman to say this by refusing to wear a head covering.
i. Under these words of Paul, women are free to pray or prophesy, but only when as they demonstrate that they are under the authority of the male leadership of the church.
e. That is one and the same as if her head was shaved: If a woman refuses to demonstrate being under authority, she may as well be shaved of her hair (let her also be shorn). In some ancient cultures, the shaving of a woman’s head was the punishment given to an adulteress.
i. Having a woman’s head shorn or shaved meant different things in different cultures. In Jewish law, it was the mark of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31). In the Greek world, it could be the mark of a prostitute or lesbian.
f. If it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered: Among the Corinthian Christians, there were probably certain “spiritual” women who declared that since Jesus, they did not need to demonstrate with a hairstyle or head covering that they were under anyone’s authority. In essence, Paul says to these women, “If you are going to forsake your head covering, go all the way and shave your head, and identify yourself with the women of the world, in all their shame.”
4. (7-10) Why is it important to respect the principle of headship in the church?
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
a. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head: The reason first stated is found in 1 Corinthians 11:3 – the head of woman is man. God has established an order of authority, the principle of male headship, both in the church (1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2) and the home (Ephesians 5:23).
b. He is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. A second reason is found in the order of creation: God created Adam first, and gave Him responsibility over Eve.
i. Since one reason for male headship is the order and manner in which God created man and woman – something which was present before the fall – this passage makes it clear that before and after the fall, God has ordained there be a difference in the roles between genders, even in the church. The fall did not cause the difference in gender roles (in the church and in the home), and the difference in roles is not erased by our new life in Jesus.
ii. Trapp on woman is the glory of the man: “Either because he may glory in her, if she be good; or because she is to honour him, and give glory to him.” Clarke also observes: “As the man is, among the creatures, the representative of the glory and perfections of God, so that the fear of him and dread of him are in every beast of the field… so the woman is, in the house and family, the representative of the power and authority of the man.” Poole adds: “But the woman is the glory of the man, created for the honour of the man, and for his help and assistance, and originally made out of man, so as man may glory of her, as Adam did of Eve, Gen. Ii. 23, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”
iii. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man: Simply put, Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve was created for Adam – and this principle applies to every “Adam” and every “Eve” through history. Genesis 2:18 declares God’s intention in creating Eve: I will make him a helper comparable to him. Eve was created to be a helper to Adam, meaning that Adam was “head” over Eve, and she was called to share and help his vision and agenda. Genesis 2:22 says, He brought her to the man. Adam was not brought to Eve, but Eve was brought to Adam – her head. It is an idea offensive to the spirit of our age, but the Bible in this passage clearly teaches that (in the church and in the home) man was not made for the benefit of woman, but woman for the benefit of man. “For the man, signifies to serve and help the man.” (Poole)
c. Because of the angels: A third reason God has established male headship in the church is the presence of angels in corporate worship.
i. Angels are present at any assembly of Christians for worship and they note any departure from reverent order. Apparently, angels are offended by any violation of propriety.
ii. Passages such as this remind us that our struggle is bigger than ourselves. God has eternal things to teach the universe through us (Ephesians 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 4:9, and 1 Peter 1:12).
iii. John Stott, commenting on Ephesians 3, explains the broader idea: “It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and the church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
iv. “And so it teaches us, that the good angels, who are ministering spirits for the good of God’s elect, at all times have a special ministration, or at least are more particularly present, in the assemblies of people for religious worship, observing the persons, carriage, and demeanour; the sense of which ought to awe all persons attending those services, from any incident and unworthy behaviour.” (Poole)
d. Significantly, none of these three reasons are culture-dependent. The order and manner of creation and the presence of angels do not depend on culture. We cannot say, “Paul said this just because of the thinking of the Corinthian culture or the place of women in that culture.” The principles are eternal, but the out-working of the principles may differ according to culture.
e. In this, we see God has established a clear chain of authority in both the home and in the church, and in those spheres, God has ordained that men are the “head,” that is, that they have the place of authority and responsibility.
i. Our culture, having rejected the idea in a difference in role between men and women, now rejects the idea of any difference between men and women. The driving trends in our culture point towards men who are more like women, and women who are more like men – and styles, clothes, perfumes, and all the rest are pushing this thought.
ii. The Bible is just as specific that there is no general submission of women unto men commanded in society, only in the spheres of the home and in the church. God has not commanded in His word that men have exclusive authority in politics, business, education, and so on.
iii. It also does not mean that every woman in the church is under the authority of every man – ridiculous! Instead it means that those who lead the church – pastors and ruling elders – must be men, and women must respect their authority, not because of their gender, but because of their office.
iv. The failure of men to lead in the home and in the church, and to lead in the way Jesus would lead, has been a chief cause of the rejection of male authority, and is inexcusable.
v. Some feel this recognition and submission to authority is an unbearable burden; that it means, “I have to say that I’m inferior, I’m nothing, and I have to recognize this other person as superior.” Not at all! Inferiority or superiority has nothing to do with it. Remember the relationship between God the Father and God the Son – they are completely equal in their being, but have different roles when it comes to authority.
vi. Some may say that the church cannot work, or cannot work well, unless we get along with the times and put women into positions of spiritual and doctrinal authority in the church. From the standpoint of what works in our culture, they may be right. But how can such a church say they are led by the word of God?
f. The issues of headship and submission should be seen in their broader context, not just as a struggle between men and women, but as a struggle with the issue of authority in general. Since the 1960’s, there has been a massive change in the way we see and accept authority.
i. Citizens do not have the same respect for government’s authority; students do not have the same respect for the teacher’s authority; women do not have the same respect for men’s authority; children do not have the same respect for parent’s authority; employees do not have the same respect for their employer’s authority; people do not have the same respect for the police’s authority; and Christians no longer have the same respect for church authority.
ii. It’s important to ask: have the changes been good? Do we feel safer? Are we more confident in our culture? Have television and other entertainment gotten better or worse? In fact, our society is presently in, and rushing towards, complete anarchy – the state where no authority is accepted, and the only thing that matters is what I want to do.
iii. It is fair to describe our present moral state as one of anarchy. There is no moral authority in our culture. When it comes to morality, the only thing that matters is what one wants to do. And in a civil sense, many neighborhoods in our nation are given over to anarchy. Do you think that government’s authority is accepted in gang-infested portions of our inner city? The only thing that matters is what one wants to do.
iv. We must see the broader attack on authority as a direct Satanic strategy to destroy our society and millions of individual lives. The devil is accomplishing this with two main attacks: first, the corruption of authority; second, the rejection of authority.
v. These ideas of authority and submission to authority are so important to God that they are part of His very being. The First Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Father; the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Son. Inherent in those titles is a relationship of authority and submission to authority. The Father exercises authority over the Son, and the Son submits to the Father’s authority – and this is in the very nature and being of God! Our failure to exercise Biblical authority, and our failure to submit to Biblical authority, isn’t just wrong and sad, it sins against the very nature of God. Remember 1 Samuel 15:23: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.
5. (11-12) Headship in light of the interdependence of men and women.
Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
a. Nevertheless: On top of all Paul has said about male headship in the church, it would be wrong to consider headship as the only dynamic at work between men and women in the church. They must also remember neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man. Men and women need each other, so there is no place for a “lording over” of the men over the women.
i. “Even after he has stressed the subordination of women, Paul goes on to stress even more directly the essential partnership of man and woman. Neither can live without the other. If there is subordination, it is in order that the partnership may be more fruitful and lovely for both.” (Barclay)
b. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman: Though Paul has recognized the order of creation, and related it to the principle of male headship in the church, he is also careful to remember even so man also comes through woman. There is a critical interdependence that must be recognized, within the framework of male headship in the church and in the home.
i. “But on the other side, since the creation of the first man, all men are by the woman, who conceives them in her womb, suckles them at her breasts, is concerned in their education while children, and dandled upon her knees; the man therefore hath no reason to despise and too much to trample upon the woman.” (Poole)
ii. Therefore the man who rules in the church or in the home without love, without recognizing the important and vital place God has given women, is not doing God’s will.
iii. “A man who can only rule by stamping his foot had better remain single. But a man who knows how to govern his house by the love of the Lord, through sacrificial submission to the Lord, is the man who is going to make a perfect husband. The woman who cannot submit to an authority like that had better remain single.” (Redpath)
iv. G. Campbell Morgan recalls the story of the older Christian woman who had never married, explaining “I never met a man who could master me.” She had the right idea.
6. (13-16) Appealing to experience, nature, common sense, and apostolic authority.
Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
a. Judge among yourselves: Paul appeals to something the Corinthian Christians should be able to figure out on their own.
b. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Here, Paul speaks to those Christians who come from a Jewish environment. In the Jewish community, even men covered their heads while praying. It was therefore inconceivable for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. Their own experience taught them that women should observe the custom of the head covering when the church meets.
c. Does not even nature itself teach: In both Jewish and Greek cultures, short hair was common for men. Therefore it was a dishonor for a man to wear long hair, because it was considered feminine.
i. From as long as we have known, women have generally worn their hair longer than men have. In some cultures and at some times, men have worn their hair longer than other times, but no matter how long men have worn their hair women in general have always worn their hair longer.
ii. Based on this verse, many people have thought that it is a sin for a man to wear long hair, or at least hair that is considered long by the culture. But long hair in itself can be no sin; after all, Paul apparently had long hair for a time in Corinth as a part of a vow (Acts 18:18). But, the vow would not have meant anything if long hair was the norm; that’s what Paul is getting at.
iii. While it is true that it is wrong for a man to take the appearance of a woman (Deuteronomy 22:5), longer hair on a man is not necessarily an indication of this. It is far better for most preachers to be concerned about the length of their sermons instead of the length of people’s hair.
d. Her hair is given to her for a covering: Because women wear their hair longer than men do, Paul thinks of this longer hair as “nature’s veil.” If nature has given women long hair as a covering, that in itself points to the woman’s need to be covered (according to the ancient Corinthian custom).
e. If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom: In this appeal to apostolic authority, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to not be contentious, especially because the other churches of God have adopted their custom according to God’s truth.
B. Instruction concerning observance of the Lord’s Supper.
1. (17-19) Introduction to the problem.
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
a. You come together not for the better but for the worse: Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians the way he might write to many congregations today. When they come together, it is not for the better but for the worse! It was to their credit that they gathered together (something neglected by too many Christians today, in disobedience to Hebrews 10:25); but sadly, it was not for the better but for the worse.
b. I hear that there are divisions among you: A large part of the problem with the gatherings of the Corinthian Christians was that there were divisions among them, something Paul had heard and could believe, knowing the history and the character of the Corinthian Christians.
i. Paul already spoke to the problem of divisions among the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There, the approach was more theological. Here, the approach is more practical, dealing with the problem of division as it shows itself in the Corinthian Christians during their gatherings.
c. There must also be factions: We usually think of factions and divisions among Christians as nothing but a problem. But Paul reveals a purpose God has in allowing factions: that those who are approved may be recognized among you. God allows factions so that, over time, those who really belong to God would be made evident.
2. (20-22) The bad conduct of the Corinthian Christians at their common meal.
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
a. When you come together in one place: In this, Paul refers to the early church custom of combining the love-feast (like a shared-dish supper) and the Lord’s Supper.
i. Because the risen Jesus so often ate with His disciples, it made sense to the early church that eating together went together with celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
b. Each one takes his own supper ahead of the others, and one is hungry and another is drunk: Sadly, the Corinthian Christians acted selfishly at their common meals. Their selfish conduct at the common meal disgraced their observance of the Lord’s Supper.
i. In the modern church, the Lord’s Supper is commonly celebrated in an atmosphere of dignity. But the Corinthian Christians came from a culture where the pagans commonly had wild, riotous banquets given in honor of a pagan god. This is how it might not seem so strange to the Corinthian Christians to even get drunk at a church common meal.
c. One takes his supper ahead of the others… one is hungry: Why would some be hungry at the church common meals? Because among the Corinthian Christians, some were more wealthy than others, and the poorer ones were being neglected (Or do you… shame those who have nothing?).
i. In that day, at common meals, it was expected that the “upper class” would receive better and more food than the “lower class.” This cultural custom was carried over into the church, and the Christians weren’t really sharing with one another. At the agape feast, the rich brought more food and the poor brought less food; but in Corinth they were not sharing the food fairly.
ii. Ancient culture, much more than modern American culture, was extremely class conscious. It was respect of these class divisions that grieved Paul so much.
iii. Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God: Paul’s message is both strong and plain – “If you want to eat or drink selfishly, do it at home!”
d. Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you: Using repetition, Paul makes it clear: I do not praise you is repeated three times in this brief section. The apostle is not happy with the Corinthian Christians at this point.
3. (23-26) How to conduct the true Lord’s Supper.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
a. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: Paul didn’t just make this up, he received it from the Lord. It came to him from the Lord either personally or through the other apostles.
i. “Some think that Paul received this from the Lord by immediate revelation… Others think that he received it from St. Luke’s writings (for the words are quoted according to his Gospel). Others think he received it from some other of the apostles. Certain it is, that he did receive it from the Lord; how, is uncertain.” (Poole)
b. On the same night in which He was betrayed: Paul, in remembering the events of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, recalls that Jesus was not only executed by a foreign power, He was betrayed by His own.
c. And when He had given thanks: In theology, and in church custom, the Lord’s Supper is often called the eucharist. This word comes from the ancient Greek phrase used here for given thanks.
d. He broke it and said: In conducting a communion service, Paul puts the emphasis on remembering Jesus, on what He said about the meaning of His own death for us.
i. We remember the Last Supper was actually a Passover meal, when Jesus, together with the disciples, according to Biblical commands and Jewish traditions, celebrated the remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to the Promised Land, beginning in the book of Exodus.
ii. The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine were important parts of the Passover celebration. Jesus took these important pictures and reminders of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and added to them the meanings connected with His own death on the cross for us.
e. This is My body: In taking the bread, we are called to remember Jesus’ body broken for you. The Passover meal featured unleavened bread, made without yeast both because yeast is a picture of sin and corruption in the Bible, and because in bread, yeast needs time to work – and in their haste to leave Egypt, the Israelites had no time to let their bread rise.
i. The unleavened bread used at a Passover meal had the scorch-mark “stripes” and holes from baking that looked like “pierce” marks. In the same way, the body of Jesus was broken for us. He was without sin (as the bread had no leaven), and His body bore stripes and was pierced (as the bread appeared to be).
f. This cup is the new covenant in My blood: In receiving the cup, we are called to remember the blood of Jesus and the new covenant. The Passover meal featured several cups of wine, each with a different title. The cup Jesus referred to was known as the cup of redemption, and Jesus added to the idea of redemption from slavery in Egypt the idea that His blood confirmed a new covenant that changed our relationship with God.
i. What mere man could have the audacity to institute a new covenant between God and man? But here, Jesus founds a new covenant, sealed with blood, even as the old covenant was sealed with blood (Exodus 24:8).
ii. What is the new covenant all about?
· It is about an inner transformation, that cleanses us from all sin: For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
· It is about God’s Word and will in us: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
· It is about a new, close, relationship with God: I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:33).
iii. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can have a new covenant relationship with God. But many Christians live as if there is no inner transformation. They live as if there is no cleansing from sin. They live as if there is no word and will of God in our hearts. They live as if there is no new and close relationship with God.
g. You proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes: While the Lord’s Supper does look back to what Jesus did on the cross, it also looks forward to the coming of Jesus, and the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
i. In Matthew 26:29, Jesus spoke of His longing expectation for the day when He would take communion with His people in heaven, which is the ultimate Lord’s Supper.
h. You eat this bread and drink this cup: The precise nature of the bread and the cup in communion has been the source of great theological controversy.
i. The Roman Catholic Church holds the idea of transubstantiation, teaching that the bread and the wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.
ii. Martin Luther held the idea of consubstantiation, teaching the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but by faith they are the same as Jesus’ actual body. Luther did not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but he did not go far from it.
iii. John Calvin taught that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine was real, but only spiritual, not physical. Zwingli taught that the bread and wine are mere symbols that represent the body and blood of Jesus. When the Swiss Reformers debated the issue with Martin Luther at Marburg, there was a huge contention. Luther insisted on some kind of physical presence because Jesus said this is My body. He insisted over and over again, writing it on the velvet of the table, Hoc est corpus meum – “this is My body” in Latin. Zwingli replied, “Jesus also said I am the vine,” and “I am the door,” but we understand what He was saying. Luther replied, “I don’t know, but if Christ told me to eat dung I would do it knowing that it was good for me.” Luther was so strong on this because he saw it as an issue of believing Christ’s words, and because he thought Zwingli was compromising, he said he was of another spirit (andere geist). Ironically, Luther later read Calvin’s writings on the Lord’s Supper (which were essentially the same as Zwingli’s) and seemed to agree with Calvin’s views.
iv. Scripturally, we can understand that the bread and the wine are not mere symbols, but they are powerful pictures to partake of and to enter into as we see the Lord’s Supper as the new Passover.
i. You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes: Proclaim is the same word translated “preach” in other places. When we take communion, we preach a sermon to God Himself, to the Devil and all his allies, and to the world who watches.
i. “As you break bread and bow your heart before Him, what sort of sermon are you preaching? Often we have broken bread together around the Lord’s table, and then we have gone out to do just what those disciples did – we have denied Him.” (Redpath)
4. (27-28) How to prepare your conduct in receiving the Lord’s Supper.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
a. Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord: Paul warns the Corinthian Christians to treat the Lord’s Supper with reverence, and to practice it in a spirit of self-examination. However, this is not written with the thought of excluding ourselves from the table, but of preparing us to receive with the right heart.
i. The King James Version of 1 Corinthians 11:27 has caused some misunderstanding in this regard: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. The word unworthily has made some Christians believe they have to “make themselves worthy” to receive communion, or if they have sinned they were unworthy to come and remember what Jesus did on the cross for them.
ii. This is a serious misunderstanding, because if anyone needs to remember the work of Jesus on the cross, it is the one who has sinned! When we are repentant, our sin should drive us to our Savior, not away from Him. However, if a Christian is in sin, and stubbornly unrepentant, they are mocking what Jesus did on the cross to cleanse them from their sin.
iii. We can never really make ourselves “worthy” of what Jesus did for us on the cross. He did it because of His great love, not because some of us were so worthy. As we take the bread and cup, we should not stare at the floor or struggle to achieve some sort of spiritual feeling. We should simply open our heart to Jesus and recognize His presence with us – in fact, in us!
b. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup: “From hence it appears, that the bread and wine is not (as papists say) transubstantiated, or turned into the very substance of the flesh and blood of Christ, when the communicants eat it and drink it. It is still the same bread and cup it was.” (Poole)
c. Let a man examine himself: Again, not in a morbid display of self-checking to see if we are worthy of what Jesus did for us; but in a honest appraisal to see if, as we receive communion, we are conducting ourselves in way honoring to the Lord.
i. The idea is plain: examine yourself, but then let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. The idea is not to keep people away from the table of communion, but to prepare them to receive it in the right way.
5. (29-32) The potential results of being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
a. Eats and drinks judgment to himself: Irreverent conduct at the Lord’s Supper invites God’s corrective discipline; so we should judge ourselves so we would not be judged. If we will discipline ourselves, the Lord will not need to with His hand of correction.
i. The words “not discerning the Lord’s body” are used by Roman Catholics to support their doctrine of transubstantiation. Their thinking is, “See, the Corinthians did not understand they were actually receiving the real body and the real blood of Jesus, and that is why they were guilty.” But this is a very narrow foundation that a huge building has been built upon. It is just as easy – and just as valid – to see the Lord’s body as a reference to the church family, and it was the lack of respect and love for the church family that caused the problems of selfishness among the Corinthian Christians.
b. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep: The judgment is significant. Evidently, among the Corinthian Christians, some experienced illness and some had even died as a result of God’s corrective discipline.
i. In writing eats and drinks judgment, Paul does not refer to eternal judgment, but to corrective judgment. There is no article “the” before “judgment,” so it is not the judgment. This chastening is not a judge condemning a criminal; it is a father correcting disobedient children.
ii. As mentioned in 1 John 5:16, there is sin leading to death, and Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 seem to be examples of this. Apparently, a believer can sin to the point where God believes it is just best to bring them home, probably because they have in some way compromised their testimony so significantly that they should just come on home to God.
iii. However, it is certainly presumptuous to think this about every case of an untimely death of a believer, or to use it as an enticement to suicide for the guilt-ridden Christian. Our lives are in God’s hands, and if He sees fit to bring one of His children home, that is fine.
c. We are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world: This makes it clear Paul knew none of the Corinthian Christians, even those who died as a result of God’s corrective judgment, had lost their salvation. They were chastened so that they would not be condemned with the world.
6. (33-34) Summary: how to act at the church common meal.
Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
a. Wait for one another: It isn’t just good manners, it shows love towards others. If you wait for one another, then everyone gets enough to eat, instead of some being gorged and others going home hungry.
b. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home: Don’t “pig out” at the church common meal, because it might mean someone else doesn’t get enough to eat. If you are that hungry, eat at home!
c. Lest you come together for judgment: Because of this simple selfishness, the Corinthian Christians brought the judgment of God upon themselves, just for the sake of food! Paul wants to put it all in perspective and remind them that it isn’t worth it at all.
d. And the rest I will set in order when I come: Paul knows he isn’t dealing with the whole issue here. There is more to say, but Paul will leave it for another time. Wouldn’t we love to know all that is behind these words, what the rest of it was about?
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Paul speaks of certain customs of hair and grooming—Heresies will arise that test and prove the faithful—The sacramental emblems are partaken in remembrance of the flesh and blood of Christ—Beware of partaking unworthily.
1 Be ye afollowers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
2 Now I praise you, brethren, athat ye remember me in all things, and keep the bordinances, as I delivered them to you.
3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the ahead of the bwoman is the man; and the chead of Christ is God.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is aeven all one as if she were shaven.
6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a ashame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless neither is the aman without the woman, neither the bwoman without the man, in the Lord.
12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
13 Judge in yourselves: is it acomely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long ahair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
16 But if any man seem to be acontentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.
18 For first of all, when ye come together in the achurch, I hear that there be bdivisions among you; and I partly believe it.
19 For there must be also aheresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
20 When ye come together therefore into one place, athis is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the achurch of God, and bshame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took abread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in aremembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this abread, and drink this cup, ye do bshew the Lord’s cdeath till he come.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this abread, and drink this cup of the Lord, bunworthily, shall cbe dguilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man aexamine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh aunworthily, eateth and drinketh bdamnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this cause many are weak and asickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would ajudge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are achastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.