11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Follow my example

A 'power move'?
Carson cites Elizabeth A. Castelli as maintaining that when Paul urges his readers to follow his example,  ‘this is always a power move that splits people into insiders and outsiders, conformists and nonconformists.  Such urging is inherently a political move that privileges a certain view of reality and marginalises others who disagree.  The appeal for unity becomes a pretext to justify hegemony.  What we should be doing, rather, is reinstating the value of difference.’  Carson comments: ‘All of this presupposes that the God of the Bible does not exist, or that if he exists he has no inclination to demand that his image-bearers live in a certain way, and not in other ways.  The self-confidence with which the value of unqualified “difference” is put forth is staggering, and staggeringly naive.’ (Exegetical Fallacies, 131)

As I follow the example of Christ – John Collins: “You are to follow no man further than he follows Christ.”

Women’s Head Coverings, 2-16

11:2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you.
11:3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 11:4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. 11:5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. 11:6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head. 11:7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. 11:8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 11:9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 11:10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11:11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 11:12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God. 11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him, 11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ – Morris says that ‘head’ as ‘one in authority’ was unknown in antiquity.  Nor was the head thought of as ‘controller’, for the functions of the central nervous system were as yet undiscovered.  Morris favours ‘source’, while counseling that we should not look for precise parallels between Christ and man, man and woman, and God and Christ.

The man is the head of a woman

1 Corinthians 11:3 – ‘Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.’

Ephesians 5:23 ‘The husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church.’

Much discussion has taken place over the meaning of kephale (‘head’) in this context.

The first of these texts has been much discussed in the debate about the Eternal Submission of the Son (ESS).

Bruce Ware states:

‘In this chapter where Paul is about to deal with the importance of women acknowledging the headship of men in the community of faith by wearing head coverings, he prefaces his remarks by describing authority and submission that exist in the eternal Godhead.’

(Quoted by Routley, Jonathan J. Eternal Submission: A Biblical and Theological Examination (p. 56).)

Kevin Giles, on the other hand, denies that ‘headship’ has anything to do with authority, and, in case, we should be cautious before drawing parallels between human and divine relationships.  Moreover (according to Giles) this passage does not set out a hierarchical structure, but rather three pairs of relationships, in each of which one member is the ‘head’ of another member.

Robert Letham agrees with Giles that this is a hard text to interpret, and for that reason should not be viewed as decisive in the debate about ESS.

Fred Sanders (who also regards this as a bona fide hard passage) thinks that it is primarily about the incarnation.

1. Kephale as implying ‘leadership’

This is the ‘traditional’ view, favour by (according to Thiselton) Weiss, Robertson and Plummer, Wendland, Allo, Lietzmann and Kümmel, Grosheide, and Héring.  In more recent times, it has also been advocated by Fitzmyer, Grudem, Kostenberger, and others.

Kephale as ‘person with authority over’ would mean that there is a unique authority of the husband in respect of his wife, of Christ in respect of his church, and of God in respect of Christ.

Fee (Discovering Biblical Equality) concedes that in Hebrew usage the metaphorical use of ‘head’ usually referred to a leader or chieftain.  (This is in contrast to Greek usage, where this usage is much less common).

Piper and Grudem (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood):

‘Verse 23 is the ground, or argument, for verse 22; thus it begins with the word for. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife. . . .” When the headship of the husband is given as the ground for the submission of the wife, the most natural understanding is that headship signifies some kind of leadership.’

Grudem offers the following points:

(a) An examination of over 2,000 instances of kephale in ancient Greek literature shows that it is never used other than in reference to a person with governing authority.

(b) It seems very unlikely that the reference of Christ as ‘head’ of his church is lacking any idea of authority.

(c) In a swathe of references from the Old Testament (LXX) and New Testament clearly indicate that the one who is called ‘head’ is a person in authority:

  • David as king of Israel is called the “head” of the people he conquered (2 Samuel [LXX 2 Kings] 22:44): “You kept me as the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me”; similarly, Psalm 18 (LXX 17):43
  • The leaders of the tribes of Israel are called “heads” of the tribes (1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1, Alexandrinus text): “Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes” (similar statements in the second-century AD Greek translation of Aquila, Deuteronomy 5:23; 29:9 (English verse 10); 1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1)
  • Jephthah becomes the “head” of the people of Gilead (Judges 11:11: “the people made him head and leader over them”; also stated in 10:18; 11:8, 9)
  • Pekah the son of Remaliah is the “head” of Samaria (Isaiah 7:9: “The head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah”)
  • The father is the “head” of the family (Hermas, Similitudes 7.3; the man is called “the head of the house”)
  • The husband is the “head” of the wife (Ephesians 5:23: “The husband is head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church”)
  • Christ is the “head” of the church (Colossians 1:18: “He is the head of the body, the church”; also in Ephesians 5:23)
  • Christ is the “head” of all things (Ephesians 1:22: “He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”)
  • God the Father is the “head” of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3: “the head of Christ is God”)

(d) It makes no sense to say that ‘the husband is the source of the wife’ (Eph 5:23).

(e) Modern Greek lexicons agree that kephale means ‘person in authority over’, and not ‘source’.

Schreiner, in his discussion of 1 Cor 11:3, agrees that

‘in some instances, the word kephalē may mean ‘source’ (e.g. Eph. 4:15; Col. 2:19), but in other instances in Paul the word ‘authority’ fits the context better (cf. Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:10). The most important evidence here is the parallel in Ephesians 5:23 where Paul also discusses the relationship of men and women, though in this instance the focus is on husbands and wives. Wives are called upon to submit to their husbands since husbands are head (Eph. 5:22–23). The word ‘head’ here clearly designates authority, for contextually the notion of authority fits with the call for wives to submit. Furthermore, husbands are not the physical source of their wives, for, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:11–12, all men come from women. Nor are husbands the spiritual source of their wives, since that honour goes to Jesus Christ.’

Of significance in the context of the present letter is Eph 1:22 – ‘God put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave him to the church as head over all things.’  See also Col 2:10.  The idea of authority here seems inescapable.  Fee, however, thinks that kephale has three different nuances in this pair of letters: ‘(a) Christ’s relationship with the church (Eph 4:15–16; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19), (b) Christ’s relationship to “the powers” (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10) and (c) a householder’s relationship to his wife (Eph 5:23).’  Fee thinks, accordingly, that we should not necessarily import the meaning of one text (say, Eph 1:22) into another text (such as the present one).

Mounce:

kephalē is also used figuratively to mean a higher position of authority. Jesus is the head over every power and authority in the universe (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). Moreover, Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body (Eph 1:22; 4:15; Col 1:18; 2:19). Paul speaks of the husband as the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph 5:23). In 1 Cor. 11:3–15 Paul shifts back and forth from a figurative to a literal use of kephalē. Figuratively, God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of his wife (v. 3; also vv. 4b, 5b).’ (Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words)

‘Some notion of authority or leadership appears to be present in 1 Corinthians 11 when Paul speaks of God in his relationship to Christ, Christ in his relationship to humanity and man in relationship to woman (1 Cor 11:3).’ (DBI)

Blomberg agrees that the word kephale, used metaphorically, can mean either ‘source’ or ‘authority’.  Paul seems to use the first meaning in Eph 4:15, but the second meaning in Eph 1:22:

‘But even here [in 1 Cor 11:3] Paul sends mixed signals, supplying an argument from the origin of men and women in verses 8–9, 12 but speaking explicitly of authority (Gk. exousia) in verse 10. The other passage in which Paul calls a man “head” over a woman refers as well to wives’ subordination to their husbands (Eph. 5:22–24), so “authority” seems somewhat more likely here too.’

According to NBC, ‘head’ unequivocally means ‘master’, and never had the meaning of ‘source’ (as some have claimed) in biblical Greek.  Grudem, similarly, rejects this argument on the basis of an analysis of usage in ancient Greek literature.  It would seem from Eph 1:22 that headship does indeed imply some kind of ‘authority over’.  But this must not be over-stated.  The NT never uses the word ‘authority’ to describe a husband’s role, nor the word ‘obedience’ to describe the wife’s.  Moreover, the word ‘subordination’ is inappropriate, given its implication of inferiority, rank, and discipline.

Fitzmyer, after a survey of the evidence, concludes that

‘a Hellenistic Jewish writer such as Paul of Tarsus could well have intended that Kephale in 1 Cor 11. 3 be understood as ‘head’ in the sense of authority or supremacy over someone else.’

Whereas the Kostenbergers state whenever kephalē is used ‘with reference to human relationships’ it carries the ‘primary . . . sense of authority,’ not ‘source’, Giles says that ‘in making this claim they stand in opposition to the overwhelming majority of contemporary commentators and theologians’.  It would appear that Giles has rather overstated his case.

2. Kephale as ‘source’

The traditional understanding, then, has been that ‘head of’ means, or at least implies, ‘has authority over’.  The revisionist approach, favoured by many egalitarians, is that it does not even imply the notion of ‘authority’.  The most favoured alternative (at least until recent years) is ‘source’.

Although dating back to Cyril of Alexandria, the idea that kephale means ‘source’, rather than ‘chief’, came to prominence in an article by Stephen Bedale published in 1954.  It was taken up by F.F. Bruce and C.K. Barrett in their respective commentaries on 1 Corinthians.  It is also adopted by Manfred Brauch in Hard Sayings of the Bible.

Kephale as ‘source’ would be an allusion to Gen 2, where Eve is created from Adam’s side.  In some analogous way, according to this interpretation, Christ is the ‘source’ of the church, and God the ‘source’ of Christ.  This view goes back as far as Cyril of Alexandria, and finds support from 1 Cor 11:8, where it is said that the woman was created from the man.

Fee argues for the translation of ‘head’ (kephale) as ‘source’, rather than ‘one in authority’.  Among other things, he notes that the immediate context (‘man did not come from woman, but woman from man’, v8; ‘the woman came from men’, v12), which does seem to favour the idea of ‘source’.

Christians for Biblical Equality state: ‘The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility (1 Cor. 7:3–5; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:1–7; Gen. 21:12). The husband’s function as “head” (kephalē) is to be understood as self-giving love and service within this relationship of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21–33; Col. 3:19; I Pet. 3:7).’

Giles argues:

‘To argue that kephalē means head/authority over in 1 Cor 11:3 is implausible. Paul immediately goes on to say that as long as a woman has her head covered she can lead the church in prayer and prophecy. Why subordinate woman to man and then immediately say that women can lead in church? It makes no sense. The well-established metaphorical meaning of “source,” in the sense of “source of life,” does make sense of this introductory comment. Paul is saying Christ is the kephalē of all humankind—as the co-creator; man (Adam) is the kephalē of the woman (Eve) in her creation, a point Paul makes in 1 Cor 11:8 and 12, and God [the Father], is the kephalē of Christ (the Son), in his eternal generation or incarnation. This interpretation of verse 3 avoids reading it to be teaching the error of subordinationism, the hierarchical ordering of the divine persons…Here it should be carefully noted that in this text Paul does not speak of a fourfold hierarchy, Father-Son-man-woman, but of three paired relationships in which in each instance one party is the kephalē. Christ is mentioned first and last.

‘That kephalē does not mean “head over/authority over” in verse 3 is confirmed by what Paul says in verse 10. The Köstenbergers argue that verse 10 speaks of the authority the man has over the woman. It does not. In the New Testament the Greek word exousia (authority) is used 103 times, and nine times in 1 Corinthians. In every instance it alludes to the authority one possesses. This text speaks of the authority women have in the new creation. It is rightly translated, “The women ought to have authority over (her) own head.” Paul could not have said this if he believed women were set under the authority of men as the creation ideal.’

Blomberg (NIVAC) argues that:

‘If “head” is taken merely as “source,” it would require interpreting “the head of Christ is God” as a reference to the incarnation, in order to avoid the ancient Arian heresy of claiming that God created Christ. But nothing else in the passage deals with Jesus coming to earth from heaven, while Paul’s theological arguments in both verses 8–9 and 10–11 explicitly appeal to the way God fashioned things at the time of creation.’

Claire Smith notes that

‘if we were to substitute ‘source’ for ‘head’ in verse 3, it just does not make theological sense. It would then say, “But I want you to realize that the source of every man is Christ, and the source of the woman is man, and the source of Christ is God”.  And if we understand ‘source’ to mean a similar thing in each of the three phrases, we end up with a Christ who was created rather than eternally begotten of the Father, and every man being made from Christ the same way that woman was made from man—that is, taken out of him (v. 8).’ (God’s Good Design)

Richard Hays (Interpreter’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians):

‘Some interpreters have attempted to explain away the hierarchical implications of v. 3 by arguing that kephalē means “source” rather than “ruler.” This is a possible meaning of the word, and it fits nicely with v. 8, in which Paul alludes to the Genesis story that describes the creation of woman out of man; however, in view of the whole shape of the argument, the patriarchal implications of v. 3 are undeniable. Even if Paul is thinking here primarily of man as the source of woman rather than authority over woman, this still serves as the warrant for a claim about his ontological preeminence over her, as vv. 7–9 show.’

(It should be noted, however, that Hays does not fully accept Paul’s argument, suggesting that Paul’s patriarchalism is open to challenge.)

Soards, though favouring this interpretation, agrees that ‘the interpretative debate is not settled’.  Thiselton, in fact, writing on 1 Corinthians, states that this interpretation is finding less favour in recent scholarship.

3. Kephale as ‘pre-eminent’ or ‘foremost’

Thiselton’s translation of v3: ‘However, I want you to understand that while Christ is preeminent [or head? or source?] for man, man is foremost [or head? source?] in relation to woman, and God is preeminent [or head? source?] in relation to Christ.’

Thiselton (Shorter Commentary) says that although ‘source’ was a popular rendering during the last quarter of the 20th century, the weight of research is now against it:

Head might be nearer, but this has unfortunate associations with domination and mastery in the modern world that fail to fit Paul’s precise meaning.’ Thiselton favours the idea of ‘foremost’, or ‘pre-eminent’.

This view was developed by Perriman in 1994, and is shared by Garland and (cautiously) Ciampa and Rosner.

Ciampa and Rosner suggest that the current debate has tended to move beyond disagreement over whether the word in question means ‘source’ or ‘authority over’.

‘Those rejecting those two possibilities have tended to a more nuanced understanding of “head” as meaning “prominent,” “preeminent,” or “foremost.”’

Nevertheless,

Even if by “head” Paul means “more prominent/preeminent partner” or (less likely) “one through whom the other exists,” his language and the flow of the argument seem to reflect an assumed hierarchy through which glory and shame flow upward from those with lower status to those above them. In this context the word almost certainly refers to one with authority over the other.

We may note, at this point, the conclusion of David Horrell (cited by Ciampa and Rosner):

Paul’s specific and contextual concerns clearly motivate the whole passage: he uses the word [“head”] precisely because his concern is with the way in which the [head] must be attired in worship. He follows the assertion of woman’s secondary place in the order of creation (vs. 8f.) not with a command for her to be subordinate, but with an insistence that her correct attire is a sign of her [authority] to pray and prophesy. Paul’s purpose seems to be the establishment of “proper” distinction between men and women rather than with male superiority or authority. The practical issue of attire is uppermost in his mind. (Translation of Gk. words in [brackets])

Derek and Dianna Tidball (The Message of Women) agree that the metaphor neither means ‘source’ nor emphasises ‘authority’.  Instead, it suggests ‘prominence’ and implies ‘the dual notion of leadership and provision’.

Verlyn D. Verbrugge comments (EBC, 2nd ed.):

‘The nuance to the word “head” (kephalē) is difficult to interpret, since it can denote prominence, leadership, or source (the same ambiguity holds in English when we talk about the head/top of a mountain, the head/leader of a company, or the head/source of a river). In most cases in the Greek language where kephalē does not mean a particular body part, the word carries the nuance of prominence; rarely does it denote source.’

‘Thus the text seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence of the Father to himself (certainly as to his human nature and even in the ontological analogy of Father-Son) and men acknowledge the preeminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship) in that culture (note that the NRSV here translates anēr and gynē here as “husband” and “wife,” respectively). But prominence in a relationship does not mean submission or subordination; certainly it does not carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and it should not mean that between men and women in the church.’

4. Kephale as ‘responsibility’

Stott (Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed., p343f) prefers ‘responsibility’: responsibility to love sacrificially, and responsibility to care selflessly.  ‘The husband’s headship of his wife…is a liberating mix of care and responsibility rather than control and authority.  This distinction is of far-reaching importance.  It takes our vision of the husband’s role away from questions of domination and decision-making into the sphere of service and nurture.’

Bibliography

In addition to the usual commentaries and other references works, the following have been consulted:

Fitzmyer, J. ‘Another look at Kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3’New Test. Stud. vol. 35,1989, pp. 503-511.

Giles, K. What the Bible Actually Teaches on Men and Women.

Grudem, W. ‘Does Kephale (“Head”), Mean “Source” or “Authority” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples’, Trinity Journal 6 (1985) 38-59.

Kostenberger, A. & M. God’s Design for Man and Woman: a Biblical and Theological Survey.

Perriman, A. “The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of Kephale in 1 Cor 11:3,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 45.2 (Oct. 1994): 602-622.

God is the head of Christ – ‘The Arians appealed to this text to establish their doctrine of the ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. Taking kephalē to mean source or origin, others have found support here for the view, developed by the Cappadocian fathers and maintained in the Orthodox Church, that the Father is the cause or source of the Godhead, the Son and the Spirit deriving their personal subsistences from him. The Western fathers and most Protestant theologians argue that as “Christ” is the designation not of the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, but of the incarnate Son, the God-man, Paul means no more than that the incarnate Son of God is subject to the Father in his mediatorial office.’ (R.S. Rayburn, art. ‘Head, Headship’ in EDT.)

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head – The head covering here is the veil.

‘Paul insists that man as well as woman can appear in public worship in a mode of attire that will reduce his self-respect and also (perhaps thereby) appear to demean Christ as his Lord and Head. Barrett argues that head refers here (v. 4) exclusively to Christ. But most writers perceive a wordplay: to demean the self is thereby to dishonor Christ. One writer compares attending an important formal dinner wearing a baseball cap. This is not simply a breach of good manners (see on 1 Cor 13:5, “love” is not “ill mannered …”); it is also attention seeking when all eyes should be elsewhere, not least on the glory of God.’ (Thiselton, Shorter Commentary)

Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head – Some (such as Westfall -see here) think that shedding the veil indicated sexual availability.  This may be so, but Westfall seems to go beyond the available evidence when she suggests that it was the men who were encouraging women to do this.

Others think that the removal of the veil was an attempt on the part of the women to signal that they no longer considered themselves to be under male authority.

Writing in 1859, Catherine Booth wrote:

“The character,” says a talented writer, “of the prophesying here referred to by the apostle is defined 1 Corinthians 14:3, 4, and 31st verses. The reader will see that it was directed to the ‘edification, exhortation, and comfort of believers;’ and the result anticipated was the conviction of unbelievers and unlearned persons. Such were the public services of women which the apostle allowed, and such was the ministry of females predicted by the prophet Joel, and described as a leading feature of the gospel dispensation. Women who speak in assemblies for worship, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, assume thereby no personal authority over others; they simply deliver the messages of the gospel, which imply obedience, subjection, and responsibility, rather than authority and power.” Dr. A. Clarke, on this verse, says, “Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman! So that some women at least, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, exhortation, and comfort. And this kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel 2:28, and referred to by Peter (Acts 2:17). And, had there not been such gifts bestowed on woman, the prophecy could not have had its fulfilment. The only difference marked by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered, because he was the representative of Christ: the woman had hers covered, because she was placed by the order of God in subjection to the man; and because it was the custom both among Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil.

Kevin Giles (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women) quotes part of the above, but omits to mention Booth’s view that the woman ‘was placed by the order of God in subjection to the man.’

It is just as if her head were shaved – ‘The shaving of the head of the woman who disgraces her husband by committing adultery was prescribed by Roman law which applied in the Roman colony of Corinth.’ (NBC)

As Craig Keener observes: ‘Most Christians today agree that women do not need to cover their heads in church, but many do not recognize that Paul used the same kinds of arguments for women covering their heads as for women refraining from congregational speech. In both cases, Paul used some general principles but addressed a specific cultural situation.’

Keener adds: ‘When Paul urged women in the Corinthian churches to cover their heads (the only place where the Bible teaches about this), he followed a custom prominent in many Eastern cultures of his day.  Although women and men alike covered their heads for various reasons, married women specifically covered their heads to prevent men other than their husbands from lusting after their hair.  A married woman who went out with her head uncovered was considered promiscuous and was to be divorced as an adulteress.  Because of what head coverings symbolized in that culture, Paul asked the more liberated women to cover their heads so they would not scandalize the others. Among his arguments for head coverings is the fact God created Adam first; in the particular culture he addressed, this argument would make sense as an argument for women wearing head coverings.

Since he is the image and glory of God – Does this imply that, in Paul’s thinking, the woman is not the image of God?  If so, this would seem to challenge, if not contradict, Gen 1:26f.

‘There is scarcely a passage in the New Testament which has so much taxed the learning and ingenuity of commentators as this. After all that has been written, it remains just as obscure as ever.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘The apostle had asserted and proved that the woman is subordinate to the man, and he had assumed as granted that the veil was the conventional symbol of the man’s authority. The inference is that the woman ought to wear the ordinary symbol of the power of her husband. As it was proper in itself, and demanded by the common sense of propriety, that the woman should be veiled, it was specially proper in the worshipping assemblies, for there they were in the presence not only of men but of angels. It was, therefore, not only out of deference to public sentiment, but but from reverence to those higher intelligences that the woman should conform to all the rules of decorum.’ (Charles Hodge)

Bengel (quoted by JFB) comments:

‘”As the angels are in relation to God, so the woman is in relation to man. God’s face is uncovered; angels in his presence are veiled. (Isa 6:2) Man’s face is uncovered; woman in his presence is to be veiled. For her not to be so, would, by its indecorousness, offend the angels. (Mt 18:10,31) She, by her weakness, especially needs their ministry; she ought, therefore, to be the more careful not to offend them.”

The woman is the glory of the man – ‘Paul is really reflecting the sense of the Old Testament text to which he is alluding. Man by himself is not complete; he is alone, without a companion or helper suitable to him. The animals will not do; he needs one who is bone of his bone, one who is like him but different from him, one who is uniquely his own ‘glory.’ In fact, when the man in the Old Testament narrative sees the woman he ‘glories’ in her by bursting into song.… She is not thereby subordinate to him, but necessary for him. She exists to his honor as the one who having come from man is the one companion suitable to him, so that he might be complete and that together they might form humanity.’ (Fee)

Man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 11:9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man

This appears to imply pre-eminence, if not authority:

‘The apostle Paul’s comments on Genesis 1–3 repeatedly root the man’s primary responsibility in both the family and the church in the fact that he was created first. Not only does Paul draw attention to the fact that the man was created first, but he also points out that it is not the man who was made for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9; see Gen. 2:18, 20) and from the man (1 Cor. 11:8, 12; see Gen. 2:22). Moreover, the man was the one who received the divine command (Gen. 2:16–17), was presented with the woman (Gen. 2:22), and named the woman with a name derived from his own (Gen. 2:23; see 3:20), which also implies his authority.’ (Kostenberger & Jones, Marriage and the Family: Biblical Essentials)

Giles (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women) disagrees with this perspective:

‘We must first look at what Paul says following in verses 11–12, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man so now man comes through woman.” This is certainly a balancing comment, if not a self-given, corrective to what he says in verses 8 and 9. Now to the text of Genesis: in chapter 2 the woman is created “for man” because he is helpless and incomplete on his own and “from man” to make the point that she is “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh”—just like me but woman. Neither of these reasons for why the woman was created imply the subordination of women; rather, they imply the substantial equality of the two sexes.’

Giles concludes:

‘The argument that derivation necessarily implies subordination has no force. It is not true. The narrator of Genesis makes it clear that he does not believe this. In Gen 2:5 he tells his readers that “there was no one to till the ground” (adamah) and so God formed the ’adam from the adamah (v. 7). Adam’s derivation from the earth does not mean he is subordinate to it, just the opposite. What the narrator of Genesis intended to be understood in speaking of woman being made from the ’adam’s “side” is that alike both man and woman are God’s creation and alike both have the same dignity, worth, and potential.’

For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head – But is this a symbol of the (male) authority she is under, or a of her own authority as one who prays and prophecies?

We might have expected Paul to write that the woman should have ‘a symbol of subjection’ on her head.  So why ‘authority’ (exousia)?  Perhaps Paul is referring to the head covering as a symbol of the man’s authority.  So GNB – ‘to show that she is under her husband’s authority’.  Fee, however, notes that the preceding uses of exousia in this letter are all pejorative (or, at least, constrained); they are to do with the abuse of authority.  He thinks, accordingly, that the present expression acknowledges that the woman does have authority, and that the head covering indicates that she does not intend to abuse it.  (Discovering Biblical Equality)

Morris writes:

Exousia means ‘authority’, not ‘subjection’; when anyone is said ‘to have authority’ it does not mean that the person is set under someone. W. M. Ramsay poured scorn on the idea that the term can indicate woman’s subjection, seeing this as ‘a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the N.T.’ (cited in Robertson and Plummer). Paul appears to be saying that there is a new view of women in Christianity. They are not to be regarded as an inferior species, as was generally the case in the ancient world. Christ’s new creation makes everything new (2 Cor. 5:17), and distinctions that matter so highly to men, including that between male and female, no longer count (Gal. 3:27–28); Paul will insist on equality in v. 11. He has said that women pray and prophesy in worship (v. 5). For that they need authority and he is saying that their head-covering is their sign of authority. As M. D. Hooker puts it, ‘Far from being a symbol of the woman’s subjection to man, therefore, her head-covering is what Paul calls it—authority: in prayer and prophecy she, like the man, is under the authority of God’ (NTS, 10, 1963–64, p. 416).’

Kevin Giles asserts:

‘In the New Testament the Greek word exousia (authority) is used 103 times, and nine times in 1 Corinthians. In every instance it alludes to the authority one possesses. This text speaks of the authority women have in the new creation. It is rightly translated, “The women ought to have authority over (her) own head.”’  For Giles, this confirms that in v3 Paul could not have meant that the man has authority over the woman.  (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women)

Because of the angels – Schreiner outlines some of the interpretative possibilities:-

  1. ‘Some think the angels refers to human messengers, so it is suggested that Paul speaks of messengers from other churches who would be shocked at what was happening in Corinth.
  2. ‘Another suggestion is that a prophetic revelation about what is fitting has been mediated through angels.
  3. ‘Others have suggested that the covering is necessary since angels would lust over women at worship.
  4. The best solution is probably that the angels are good angels who assist in worship and desire to see the order of creation maintained. (reformatted)’

‘Paul probably means that there is more to worship than the people in the congregation see. Good angels are there. The angels observe, and the woman must not be unseemly before them.’ (Morris)

‘Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11:10 indicate that Paul feared angels could be tempted. In discussing why women should have their head covered and the fact that a woman’s hair was given to her as a “covering,” Paul advises that women should heed his words “because of the angels.” Recent scholarship has shown that in the Greco-Roman worldview, of which Corinth was obviously a part, Paul’s discussion of these items is inherently sexual in nature, ultimately having to do with conceiving children.’ (Heiser, Angels: What the Bible Really Says about God’s Heavenly Host)

Gordon Fee notes that angels are mentioned three other times in the letter – 1 Cor 4:9; 6:2–3; 13:1.  In the last of these (Fee claims) there is a strong hint the speaking in tongues was regarded as speaking in angelic languages, and therefore an indication of spiritual superiority.  The other two passage may also reflect the Corinthians’ over-estimation of the importance of angels.  Fee thinks that Paul may be making a temporary concession to this belief, so that because of their likeness to angels the Corinthians women have the right to wear what they like on their heads.  (Discovering Biblical Equality)

The very nature of thingslit. ‘nature itself’.  Some (such as Morris) think that Paul is arguing from the premise that women have longer hair than men for physiological reasons (although we might argue that ‘nature’ does not give men shorter hair, but only (in time) thinner hair.  We might legitimately expand on this line of reasoning by acknowledging, contrary to some feminist teaching, that ‘nature’ has made men and women different in a variety of ways and that this leads to the complementary inter-dependence that Paul has just referred to (v11).

Others (such as Fee) think that this is an appeal to convention (‘the way things are’), rather than to ‘nature’.  The very expression ‘nature itself teaches’ appears in Aristotle, apparently with the meaning, ‘it is a matter of common observation’.

Matthew Vines accepts such a meaning here, and then seeks to apply it to Paul’s teaching about homosexual practices in Romans 1:

‘One of the most common meanings of the Greek word for “nature” is custom, and that is how Christians widely interpret this passage in 1 Corinthians today. And the reference to what is a “disgrace” or “shame” is taken as specifically being shameful given particular customs. So how we read Paul here in 1 Corinthians is basically this: “Do not the customs of our society dictate that it is considered shameful for a man to have long hair, but honorable for a woman?”’

Vines then seeks to import this idea into a discussion about what Paul means by ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural in Rom 1:27f –

‘The Greeks and Romans, along with other societies of biblical times, believed that a man’s natural, customary role was to be active in sexual relations, whereas a woman’s was to be passive. When either of those roles were inverted – when a man was passive or a woman was active – they labeled that behavior shameful and “unnatural” in the sense of violating customary gender roles. That is why they commonly called same-sex unions “unnatural.” But just like Greek and Roman attitudes about appropriate hair length, their views about gender roles are specific to those patriarchal cultures. In both of these cases, Paul is merely using terms that have already gained a wide currency to describe things in the societies that he is addressing.’

‘The word for “nature”, sometimes means “essence” or “substance,” sometimes “the laws of nature” or “of our natural constitution;” sometimes, the instinctive feeling or judgements which are the effects of those laws. The form which these feelings assume is necessarily determined in a great measure by education and habit. The instinctive sense of propriety in an eastern maiden prompts her, when surprised by strangers, to cover her face. In an European it would not produce that effect. In writing, therefore, to eastern females, it would be correct to ask whether their native sense of propriety did not prompt them to cover their heads in public. The response would infallibly be in the affirmative. It is in this sense the word “nature” is commonly taken here. It may, however, mean the laws or course of nature. Nature gives the man short hair and the woman long hair; and therefore nature itself teaches that long hair is a disgrace to the one and an ornament to the other; for it is disgraceful in a man to be like a woman, and in a woman to be like a man. Wearing long hair was contrary to the custom both of the Hebrews and Greeks. The Nazirites, as a distinction, allowed their hair to grow. Nu 6:5; see also Eze 44:20.’ (Charles Hodge)

If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him – Paul would have been aware of many exceptions to this, including the Nazirites (and see Acts 18:18), but he was able to appeal to a general rule.

Augustine complained: ‘What is the reason, I wonder, why men wear their hair long contrary to the precept of the apostle? Is it to furnish greater leisure to the barbers? Or is it because they wish to imitate the birds of the gospel? Maybe they fear being plucked so that they might be unable to fly? I refrain from saying more concerning this habit, because of certain long-haired brothers whom, in almost all other respects, we hold in high esteem. But in proportion as we love them the more in Christ, to that degree do we advise them the more earnestly.’ (ACCS)

A woman should have a symbol of authority on her head

Kevin DeYoung infers from Paul’s teaching in this passage that it is right for men and women to be distinguishable by their appearance.  Of course, the details of this will vary from culture to culture, and from individual to individual, but the general principle remains.  It isn’t’ right for men to look like women, nor for women to look like men.

The Lord’s Supper, 17-34

11:17 Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 11:18 For in the first place, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 11:19 For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident. 11:20 Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper. 11:21 For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper. One is hungry and another becomes drunk. 11:22 Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink? Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I will not praise you for this!

Strengths and weaknesses

Michael Green outlines the strengths and weaknesses at Corinth with regard to their treatment of the Lord’s Supper:-

Strengths

  • The communion was celebrated in the home.
  • This home communion facilitated maximum contribution from members.
  • There was no rigid separation between the secular and sacred.

Failures

  • Divisions, 1 Cor 11:18. In our own day, we frequently suffer similar kinds of divisions: between the older and the younger members; between the conservatives and the progressives; between different social classes.
  • Self-centredness, 1 Cor 11:21. The rich came early and ate and drank their fill; the slaves, who arrived later, were left with nothing.
  • Irreverence, 1 Cor 11:27. They, and we, can come to the Lord’s table unprepared, without repentance or forgiveness. Or, we simply treat the whole thing with careless familiarity.
  • Compromise, 1 Cor 10:21. They had not cut off their links with the old life, taking part in idolatrous meals, 1 Cor 8:1f. But God is a jealous God who will not share his people with other gods. Such practices can make people vulnerable to evil powers.

I do not praise you – Paul had been keen to commend them as far as possible, but he cannot do so with regard to their conduct of the Lord’s Supper.

You come together not for the better but for the worse – In the section which leads up to 14:40 Paul will deal a variety of problems associated with the corporate worship of the Corinthian church.

When you come together as a church – that is, as a Christian assembly. Of course, church buildings as we know them were unheard of in NT times. ‘No books, no fixed liturgy, no special building, no monopoly by the clergy, and no sharp distinction between the supper party and the supper of the Lord.’ (Michael Green)

There are divisions – The word (schisma) means a tear, as in a piece of cloth. There is dissension. Their outward togetherness is marred by an inward cliqueiness, 1 Cor 1:10. These divisions were based on a variety of factors: economic status, spiritual gifts, and hero-worship being the most obvious.

In part I believe it – The report may have been exaggerated, but there is some truth in it. The rumours are persistent (‘I keep hearing’).

There must in fact be divisions among you – ‘There have to be’, for, (a) they are inevitable, given the corruption of the human heart and the mixed nature of the professing church; (b) they show people up for what they really are, so that the process of purification of the church can begin and continue, 1 Jn 2:19. Moreover, it is good for divisions and disagreements to be brought to the surface, for only then can they be dealt with honestly and openly. Paul doesn’t ask them to bury their differences, but to sort them out.

When you come together – for a fellowship meal.

It is not to eat the Lord’s Supper – Whatever their professed purpose was in meeting together: their greed, their intemperance, their selfishness showed that they had no regard for true Christian worship or fellowship.

‘As to the Lord’s Supper, it seems probable that it was, in Corinth at least, connected with an ordinary meal, in which all the Christians met at a common table. For this meal each one brought what provisions he was able to contribute. Instead, however, of its being a feast of brotherly love, the rich ate by themselves, and left their poorer brethren no part in the feast. To correct this abuse, destructive of the whole intent of the sacrament, the apostle reminds his readers that he had communicated to them the account of the original institution of the ordinance, as he himself had received it of the Lord. According to that institution, it was designed not to satisfy hunger, but to commemorate the death of Christ. It was therefore a religious service of a peculiarly solemn character. The bread and wine being the appointed symbols of his body and blood, to eat and drink in a careless, irreverent manner, making no distinctions between the consecrated elements and ordinary food, was to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, 1 Cor 11:17-34.’ (Hodge)

When it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper – προλαμβάνω is sometimes translated ‘devours’, but inscriptional evidence points to ‘goes ahead with’.  Paul’s complaint then, would be that wealthier believers are getting on with their eucharistic meal before the others arrive.

v21 It was common in the Greek festivals, for people to bring food and drink, which would be shared generally by those attending. This seems also to have been the case with the Christian ‘love-feasts’, and it may have been just such a communal meal, incorporating the breaking of bread and the taking of wine, which the Corinthians had turned into an unholy revel. They who had so recently been heathens themselves, had turned the simple”], shared, commemorative meal into something indistinguishable from a heathen festival. There was no sharing, only hasty greed. The poor went hungry while the rich gorged themselves and got drunk. Members of the church who were slaves no doubt came late, because they would have had to serve their masters at home before coming. It was not even a shared meal, such as was common amongst the pagans, much less was it a Lord’s Supper.

Barnes remarks: ‘(1) we are not to expect perfection at once among a people recently converted from paganism. (2) we see how prone men are to abuse even the most holy rites of religion, and hence how corrupt is human nature. (3) we see that even Christians, recently converted, need constant guidance and superintendence; and that if left to themselves they soon, like others, fall into gross and scandalous offences.’

Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in – If all you are going to do is eat and drink and pay no attention to the needs or feelings or others, then you might as well stay at home.

You despise the church of God when you turn its assemblies into times of feasting and revelry. The church meeting, and especially the Lord’s supper, is to be a time of sacredness and purity.

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 11:24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 11:25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 11:26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The passage which this verse introduces is remarkable for a number of reasons:

(a) It is the earliest detailed account we have of any of the words or actions of the Lord Jesus, and the earliest account we have of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. (Luke’s account is almost identical, and he may have had this letter before him when he wrote his Gospel.)

(b) It has been the occasion of immense acrimony – and even bloodshed – between rival groups of Christians (whose ferocity has been particularly focussed on the meaning of the words, ‘This is my body’).

(c) It suggests a solemn and sobering link between one’s attitude to the Lord’s Supper and one’s physical health.

I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you – a customary way of describing the receiving and passing down of Christian tradition. Evangelicals are often described as ‘conservative’, and rightly so, if this means that they ‘conserve’ the faith without materially adding to it or detracting from it.

This phrase ‘need not mean some direct revelation from God or Christ, but it does suggest a level of reliability or confidence in the tradition that goes beyond what mere human transmission can provide.’ (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.

Robert M. Price (The Historical Jesus: Five Views) expresses the view that the present passage (1 Cor 11:23-26) might be an interpolation.  But even if it is not, says Price, this has nothing to do with an historical Jesus or an historical Last Supper: it is ‘entirely plausible’ that Paul is claiming to have received this knowledge in a vision, in the same way that Moses received and passed on the Law.  On this reading, ‘we would actually be seeing the beginnings of the historicization of the Christ figure here.’

Much more reasonably, Bauckham, noting the close similarity between the present passage and Luke 22:19f, suggests that ‘the close verbal parallelism between [them] cannot plausibly be explained by a literary relationship between the texts, since Luke’s Gospel cannot have been available to Paul and Luke shows no acquaintance with Paul’s letters. Only strictly memorized oral tradition (memorized in Greek) can explain the high degree of verbal resemblance.’ (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses)

Blomberg comments: ‘All three Synoptic Gospels contain similar words attributed to Jesus on the last night of his earthly life (Mark 14: 22– 24; Matt 26: 26– 28; Luke 22: 19– 20). What is particularly interesting is that at several points Paul’s wording is extremely close to Luke’s even though Luke varies a little from Mark and Matthew. Thus both Luke and Paul include after “the body,” the words, “which is [given] for you.” Both add the command, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Both add in the narrative material, “in the same way,” and “after supper.” And both explicitly label the covenant a “new” one.’

On the same night in which he was betrayed – The love-feast was instituted at the very time when human wickedness was betraying the Saviour to his enemies.

Note that the text does not say, as much Christian liturgy does, ‘on the night before he died’.  this leaves room for Colin Humphreys’ argument that the Last Supper took place on the Wednesday night (not the Thursday night, as usually supposed).

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

  1. Look back, 1 Cor 11:23f. Look back with gratitude at the Lamb of God, who shed his blood to set sinners free.
  2. Look in, 1 Cor 11:27f. No-one should take the Lord’s Supper without careful self-examination beforehand.
  3. Look up, 1 Cor 11:20. It is the Lord’s Supper; the risen Lord is present; he is the host.
  4. Look around, 1 Cor 11:29. The horizontal dimension was being abused by the Corinthians by their greed and selfishness. We express our love for one another in coming together around the Lord’s table. We kneel side by side as equals, whatever our age, gender, or social class.
  5. Look forward. 1 Cor 11:26. The communion service is a foretaste of heaven, an anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Even with trouble all around us, we lift up our eyes and see that our redemption draws near.
  6. Look outwards, 1 Cor 11:26. The communion service is a witness to the watching world that we ‘serve a risen Saviour’. We rise from the meal, nourished and equipped to go into the world as Christ’s ambassadors. The Lord’s Supper ‘is battle rations for Christian warriors, not cream cake for Christian layabouts.’ (Green)

(Adapted from Green, To Corinth With Love, 47-49)

“Take, eat” – cf. Isa 55:1-3 Jn 6:53-58. However, these words are not found in the best MSS.

“This is my body” – Since this epistle is earlier than any of the Gospels, this is the first recorded account of any of the words of Jesus.

This expression has, of course, been used as a proof-text for the doctrines of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, but various forms of identification can be denoted by the word is, cf Jn 8:12 10:9 15:1 1 Cor 10:4. In any case, Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic, and the word ‘is’ would actually have been omitted (he would have said, in effect, ‘This bread my body’. The meaning evidently is, “This represents, or symbolises, my body.” Still, we should not be drawn into reducing the Lord’s Supper into an act of remembrance and nothing more (pace Zwingli). ‘There is a very gift of the Saviour in the sacrament, none the less real for being essentially spiritual’ (Morris).

“Which is broken for you” – ‘Broken’ reflects the Textus Receptus, but is not considered genuine. Lk 22:19 has ‘given for you’ which is the idea here. The emphasis is on the vicarious nature of Christ’s death.

“Do this in remembrance of me” – The tense is the present continuous – keep doing this. Hence we find that the Church regularly observed the Lord’s Supper from the beginning, Acts 2:42.

This ‘takes us back to the foundation-events of redemption. It is a reminder that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into this world of material bread: this three-dimensional world. He came into space-time history. He was there, that night, doing these things and saying these things; and the following day, on the cross, in that same material world of time and space, He literally gave Himself for us. The Lord’s Supper is there to make sure we never forget.’ (MacLeod, A Faith to Live By)

“Remembrance” – Gk ‘anamnesis’. Anglo-catholic writers, such as Gregory Dix, have argued that this word has the meaning of ‘bringing to the present’, or ‘making present’ (the redeeming effect of the cross by means of the eucharist). The eucharist is thus understood to perpetuate the eternally accepted sacrifice of Christ.

The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt stands as a monument to the pride of the Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops). The pyramid’s base covers 13 acres. This awe-inspiring memorial is estimated to contain 2.3 million blocks of stone, each weighing from 2 to 15 tons. Some 100,000 men spent 20 years building the Great Pyramid, but the winds of time have worn away its surface and thieves have stolen its treasures. Unlike that memorial, the one initiated by our Lord on the night of his betrayal speaks not of pride, but of love and sacrifice. Its beauty can’t be diminished by time, or its treasures pilfered by thieves. Each time believers share the bread and cup together, the power of Jesus’ memorial is as fresh as the night it was first observed.

Covenant diatheke: used in the LXX to translate ‘covenant’ but in Gk literature generally to mean ‘testament’ (as in ‘last will and testament’). Here, the meaning is ‘covenant’ (Morris), cf. Jer 31:31-34. The old covenant, based on law, was not permanent, but was replaced by a new one, based on grace. And this new covenant is established by means of the shedding of the blood of Jesus. It is essentially the promise given by God that those who believe in his Son will receive forgiveness and eternal life. And it is established in his blood, i.e. in his death.

‘”This cup,” said Jesus, in the usual version, “is the new covenant in my blood.” We have translated it slightly differently, “This cup is the new covenant and it cost my blood.” The Greek preposition en most commonly means in; but it can, and regularly does, mean at the cost or price of, especially when it translates the Hebrew preposition be. Now a covenant is a relationship entered into between two people. There was an old covenant between God and man and that old relationship was based on law. In it God chose and approached the people of Israel and became in a special sense their God; but there was a condition, that, if this relationship was going to last, they must keep his law. (compare Ex 24:1-8) With Jesus a new relationship is opened to man, dependent not on law but on love, dependent not on man’s ability to keep the law-for no man can do that-but on the free grace of God’s love offered to men.’ (DSB)

On the covenant as ‘new’, see Heb 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24.

Whenever you drink it – ‘The time of the passover had been fixed by positive statute; the more mild and gentle system of Christianity left it to the followers of the Redeemer themselves to determine how often they would celebrate his death. It was commanded them to do it; it was presumed that their love to him would be so strong as to secure a frequent observance; it was permitted to them, as in prayer, to celebrate it on any occasion of affliction, trial, or deep interest, when they would feel their need of it, and when they would suppose that its observance would be for the edification of the church.’ (Barnes)

‘The symbolism of drinking the wine in the Lord’s Supper is that of partaking in the benefits of his death for us.’ (Mt 26:27; Jn 6:53-56; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:25-29) (DBI)

In remembrance of me – These words are recorded in Lk 22:19, but not in any of the other Gospels.

The Lord’s Supper

  1. The person we remember – ‘the Lord’
  2. The fact we announce – ‘his death’
  3. The event we await – ‘until he comes’

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

Proclaim katangello. Has been understood to mean that in the Communion we offer Christ, or his sacrifice to God. But this is completely unbiblical. We offer nothing to God except ourselves. In the Communion we do not give, but we receive, Christ. The word is consistently used the mean ‘announce’ or ‘proclaim’. The observance of the Lord’s Supper is a vivid proclamation, to each other and to any who may be looking on, of the death of Christ.

Until he comes – The Lord’s Supper has an eschatological aspect. It does not only look back; it also looks forward.

The brand image of a Christian. ‘I confess that I love to see a communicant kneeling at the rail. This is my brand image of a Christian. Not a soldier brandishing a sword, not an athlete stripped for the race, not a farmer braving wind and rain, with his hand on the plough and never looking back – though all these are true. But a pentitent sinner, with knees bent, head bowed and downcast eyes, but with open, empty hands uplifted to receive a gift.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 281)

11:27 For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 11:28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 11:29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 11:31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 11:32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world. 11:33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 11:34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment. I will give directions about other matters when I come.

Paul’s explanation of the meaning of the service leads him to speak of the way in which it should be conducted. The word therefore connects the two: because the service is full of sacred meaning, it should be observed with deep reverence.

In an unworthy manner – without confession of sin, without love for fellow-Christians, without humility. Of course, we are all unworthy of God’s goodness, but we can eat and drink worthily if we come with due faith, humility and reverence.

‘What is meant by ‘in an unworthy manner’? It is not a poor, trembling soul fearing that she may be a hypocrite. The nature of the offence is defined by the context. The abuses at Corinth were horrific. The sacrament had become a virtual orgy. There was drunkenness, gluttony and snobbery and it was all happening around the Lord’s Table. It was that level of abuse that distressed Paul.’  (MacLeod, A Faith to Live By)

This verse sounds a death-knell for any ideas about the sacrament conferring grace ‘ex opere operato’. No, it does good only to those who receive it with faith and from a sincere heart.

Examine dokimazeto – used of the testing of metals. The Communion should not be taken as a matter of routine, but with due self-examination. Cf. 2 Cor 13:5 Gal 6:3-5.

‘Paul is calling for each believer to evaluate his behavior at the supper (not his behavior throughout the week) to discern if it is appropriate to the doctrine of the Lord’s meal that Paul has given.’ (College Press)

Without recognizing the body of the Lord – treating the Lord’s Supper just like any other meal; eating the supper, but forgetting the Lord. Alternatively, or additionally, not having due regard for the people of God: ‘to fail to recognize the church as the body of Christ by dividing it is to participate in the Lord’s Supper unworthily and thereby to incur divine judgment’ (1 Cor 11:27-33) (EDBT).

This phrase ‘can equally well mean two things; and each is so real and so important that it is quite likely that both are intended.

(i) It may mean that the man who eats and drinks unworthily does not realize what the sacred symbols mean. It may mean that he eats and drinks with no reverence and no sense of the love that these symbols stand for or the obligation that is laid upon him.

(ii) It may also mean this. The phrase the body of Christ again and again stands for the Church; it does so, as we shall see, in 1 Cor 12. Paul has just been rebuking those who with their divisions and their class distinctions divide the Church; so this may mean that he eats and drinks unworthily who has never realized that the whole Church is the body of Christ but is at variance with his brother. Every man in whose heart there is hatred, bitterness, contempt against his brother man, as he comes to the Table of our Lord, eats and drinks unworthily. So then to eat and drink unworthily is to do so with no sense of the greatness of the thing we do, and to do so while we are at variance with the brother for whom also Christ died.’ (DSB)

Judgement – Not eternal judgement and condemnation, but the judgement of stern but fatherly discipline.

There is a relationship between spiritual and physical health. It is not just a case of gluttony and drunkenness leading to ill-health, but of the chastening hand of God in rebuking our thoughtlessness and irreverence. It follows from Paul’s stern statement here that the Lord’s Supper is to be viewed with due seriousness and reverence: it is not a meaningless ritual, but a sacrament which, when taken aright, strengthens our faith, but the neglect or abuse of which leads to problems of various kinds.

If we would judge ourselves – If we knew what we were truly like, we would not need another to judge us.

Chastened by the Lord – ‘These disasters are not nameless evils, but the tokens of God’s love’ (Morris). God’s judgements on his people are meant to be corrective. See Heb 12:7n.