1 Corinthians 11 Commentary


When women pray or prophesy (11:2-16)

Paul had heard from the visitors from Corinth of disorder in the public worship of the church. To start with, some of the Corinthian women were speaking in the church services without the veil over their heads. This was shameful by current social standards in that part of the world. Paul argues that Christians do not have to show their new-found freedom by rejecting the local customs of politeness and etiquette. In fact, these customs may reflect a basic God-given principle.

Although he praises the Corinthians for their steadfastness in following his teachings (2), Paul realizes that certain matters still need attention. He reminds them that the woman is under the authority of the man, just as the man is under the authority of Christ (3). The head covering may be seen as a sign of that relationship. Therefore, a man should not wear a head covering when he prays or prophesies, because he is not under any creature’s authority; but a woman should, because she is under the authority of the man. To have her head uncovered is as shameful as to have it shaved bare (4-6). Woman was made from man and for man, and though she has a special status as the glory of man, she is nonetheless under his authority (7-9). The angels observe this order in the church (10).

This does not mean that the woman is inferior or that the man is superior. Neither man nor woman can exist without the other (11-12). The Corinthians can see for themselves that it is shameful for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. It is as shameful as for a man to have long hair like a woman, or a woman to have short hair like a man. The environment in which they live should tell them what is natural and what is not, and this order should be reflected in the church (13-15). Paul does not want to argue the matter further, but he reminds them that what he has just outlined is the common practice among the churches (16).

The Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)

God’s purpose was that the Lord’s Supper should demonstrate and strengthen the unity of his people in one body (see 10:16-17), but the way the church in Corinth practised it, it produced the opposite effect. It caused Christians to break into opposing groups. The only advantage in this, Paul ironically points out, is that it enables a person to see how many good Christians there really are (17-19).

The practice in those days was that when Christians met for the Lord’s Supper, all who could afford to brought along food and drink to share with the poor in a common meal. At the end they ate the Lord’s Supper. The common meal was called a love feast, but at Corinth it showed little sign of love. The ceremonial meal was called the Lord’s Supper, but at Corinth it was very much their own supper. The rich greedily ate their own food without sharing it with others and without even waiting for everyone to arrive. So the poor went hungry, while the rich feasted and became drunk. Paul says that those who shame themselves and the church in this way would do better to eat at home (20-22).

Paul then gives them the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, as the Lord had revealed it to him. The eating of bread and drinking of wine together is a communion with Christ, a spiritual sharing together in his body and blood (cf. 10:16). It is a fresh enjoyment of and proclamation of the benefits of his death. It is also a reminder that through his death the old era has passed and the full blessings of the new covenant have become the possession of all Christ’s people (23-26).

Nobody should join in this act of communion thoughtlessly. All should examine themselves to make sure their conduct and attitude are in keeping with the Supper’s meaning (27-28). If they join in it thoughtlessly, as if it were just an ordinary meal, they bring God’s judgment upon themselves. Indeed, some in the church have, because of their wrong behaviour, suffered such judgment in sickness and death (29-30). Christians should examine themselves honestly to see what they are really like. If not, God may


send them difficulties to bring them back from the wrong way and save them from the judgment that awaits sinners (31-32).

Therefore, Paul concludes, the Corinthians should cease their shameful rush and greed at the Lord’s Supper and remember what it is for. It is not just a feast (33-34).

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