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1 Corinthians 11


    Problems in Community Life (11:2-14:40)   Decorum in Public Worship (11:2-14:40)
Covering the Head in Worship Head Covering Propriety in Dress at Public Worship Covering the Head in Worship Women's Behavior at Services
11:2-16 11:2-16 11:2-16 11:2-12 11:2-6
      11:13-16 11:13-15
Abuses at the Lord's Supper Conduct at the Lord's Supper Directions in the Face of Abuses at the Lord's Supper The Lord's Supper The Lord's Supper
11:17-22 11:17-22 11:17-22 11:17-22 11:17-22
The Institution of the Lord's Supper Institution of the Lord's Supper      
11:23-26 11:23-26 11:23-26 11:23-26 11:23-27
Partaking of the Supper Unworthily Examine Yourself      
11:27-34 11:27-34 11:27-34 11:27-32  
      11:33-34 11:33-34

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapters 11 through 14 deal with matters of gathered worship. They form a unified literary unit.

1. men's and women's attire and actions (11:2-16)

2. observance of the Lord's Supper (11:17-34)

3. the exercise of spiritual gifts (12-14)


B. When I say "gathered worship" there are two possible settings.

1. small groups meeting regularly in houses throughout, some in wealthy neighborhoods, some in ethnic quarters, some in slave quarters

2. periodically (exact time frame uncertain) these small house churches gathered together for a city-wide worship event (i.e., the agape meal with the celebration of the Eucharist)

3. whether there is a different set of protocols for the house churches vs. the gathered event is uncertain


C. There have been several ways to understand vv. 2-16.

1. This context primarily deals with proper decorum (cf. v. 13) in gathered worship, not the relationship between men and women (cf. vv. 11-12).

2. This context deals with the new freedom in Christ which the Roman men and women in the church at Corinth were using to flaunt their social status (men) and independence from tradition and culture (women).

3. This context deals with the creation relationship between husbands and wives (cf. Eph. 5:22-31; I Tim. 2:9-15). The proper relationship is based on Genesis 2-3, which shows the priority of men because of the original creation of Adam and the initial rebellion of Eve.

4. Paul's discussion of head coverings is not limited to women, but is also addressed to men. As usual in Corinth the problem is from two directions. As a sign of their elite social status some men were covering their heads when they led in gathered worship as they had done in paganism. As a sign of their social emancipation women were removing their marriage veils when they led in gathered worship (cf. Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, pp. 121-141). This text uniquely suits Roman Corinth. In Jewish life and Greek life women did not normally wear head coverings.

It seems that this ambiguous context is open to multiple interpretations. These interpretations say more about the interpreter's biases than Paul's intent. A text which has been and can be understood in so many ways by sincere believers must surely not be used in a definitive, dogmatic way to restrict or advocate the place and function of women in the church or the relationship between men and women in all ages and cultures. It amazes me that some believers relegate the chapter 11 discussion of head coverings for men and women to a cultural issue (even though Paul appeals to Genesis 1-3), while at the same time, demanding Paul's limits on women in church as a principle for all ages. It is this lack of consistency that causes so much trouble in interpretation. The best brief discussion of this complicated and emotional issue is in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, pp. 61-77 or Gospel and Spirit, by Gordon Fee.

D. This chapter helps us see that some theological symbols and privileges must be limited or expanded in relationship to the culture in which the mature Christian finds himself/herself. A book that has helped me in this area is Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 71-89.


E. This is the earliest written account of the Lord's Supper/Eucharist/Communion.


F. The purposes of the Lord's Supper

1. unity and fellowship of the church

2. expression of Jesus' presence

3. expression of Jesus' historical sacrifice

4. expression of our new relationship to God through Christ

5. an act of proclaiming the past event and the future coming of Christ

6. a serious act of worship

From 10:16-17 it is certain that Paul viewed this experience as more than merely symbolic or memorial (cf. vv. 24-25). However, this concept is not developed. Possibly John 6:41-71 (although nothing in the immediate context relates to the Lord's Supper) is an aspect of this spiritual unity. Christianity is primarily a personal faith relationship with the Triune God.


Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. 10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

11:2 In light of the previous chapters, one wonders if this verse is irony or sarcasm. This church was not remembering Paul's words and was not following his teaching (cf. 11:17,22). It is possible that this is another question that the church wrote to Paul about.

NASB"hold firmly to the traditions"
NKJV"keep the traditions"
NRSV"maintain the traditions"
TEV"follow the teachings"
NJB"maintaining the traditions"

This is a present active indicative. Believers are to continue to cling to the truths that Paul preached (cf. II Thess. 2:15). This is the covenantal balance to election.

The term "traditions" (pardosis) is used in several senses:

1. in I Cor. 11:2,23; 15:3 for gospel truths

2. in Matt. 15:6; 23:1ff; Mark 7:8; Gal. 1:14 of Jewish traditions

3. in Col. 2:6-8 of Gnostic speculations

4. Roman Catholics (Eastern and Russian Orthodox) use this verse as a biblical proof-text for Scripture and church traditions being equal in authority

5. in this context it refers to Apostolic truth, either spoken or written (cf. II Thess. 3:6)


▣ "to the traditions" Much of the information about Jesus was passed orally from individual to individual until it was written down some 30 to 60 years after His death.

▣ "just as I delivered them to you" There is a Greek wordplay between "traditions" (paradoseis) and "delivered" (paredōka), which are both forms of paradidōmi. Paul was not the originator, but simply a link in the chain of revelation. The term "traditions" was used of Christian truths being passed from one person to another (cf. 11:23; 15:3).

Paul received information about the gospel from several sources.

1. Stephen's sermon (cf. Acts 7)

2. Christians he persecuted (cf. Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 22:4,19)

3. Ananias (cf. Acts 9:10-18)

4. His time in Arabia with Christ (cf. Gal. 1:11-17)

5. His time in Jerusalem with Peter and James (cf. Gal. 1:18-19)

6. Barnabas (cf. Acts 9:20-27; 11:25-26)


11:3 "Christ is the head" In his commentary 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 103, F. F. Bruce asserts that in this context kephalē follows the Hebrew rosh in the sense of origin or source. This meaning of kephalē is not documented in the Greek Lexicons by:

1. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker

2. Moulton, Milligan

3. Louw, Nida

4. Moulton

This shows how the context (i.e., I Cor. 11) determines the definition, not a dictionary. In this context "source" or "origin" fits best in v. 3 in relation to Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18 (cf. Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, and Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 599-602).

Jesus was the Father's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3,10; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Humans, male and female, were created by Him, in His image. However, the Son is submissive to the Father (cf. I Cor. 3:23; 11:2; 15:28). This appropriate submission extends to men and women. They are both created in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), but there is an order, man first, then woman (cf. Gen. 2:18) related to function (at least in a patriarchal system), but not inequality! See Special Topic following.


▣ "man is the head of a woman" The terms "man" and "woman" can mean husband and wife (cf. NRSV, TEV). In this context this is not the intended emphasis, but the order of creation reflected in Genesis 2.

▣ "and God is the head of Christ" This is a repeated truth in I Corinthians (cf. 3:23; 11:3; 15:28). The order within the Trinity has nothing to do with inequality, but is a division of function. This truth can also be implied from the discussion of male and female. Mutuality was surely the model before the Fall in Genesis 3. This mutuality is reinstated in believers' restored relationship with the Father through the Son (i.e., Jesus has restored the image in both male and female believers).


NASB"Every man who has something on his head while praying. . .disgraces his head"
NKJV"Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head"
NRSV"Any man who prays or prophecies with something on his head disgraces his head"
TEV"So a man who prays or proclaims God's message in public worship with his head covered disgraces Christ"
NJB"For any man to pray or prophesy with his head covered shows disrespect for his head"

This is a word play on "head." The second use of the word "head" refers to Christ (cf. TEV). Paul is dealing with a Roman culture whose forms and symbols are exactly opposite of Jewish culture (i.e., men cover their heads). The real issue is not who covers whose head, but the symbol of (1) origin or (2) submission, which are both theologically significant.

It has been suggested that the historical situation in Corinth:

1. the social, political, and financial leaders led worship with a head covering to differentiate themselves from the common man

2. that Jews in the synagogue in Corinth had women wear a veil and believing Jews expected the same in the church

There is a theological tension between this verse, which seems to affirm women in leadership roles in public worship with the socially acceptable covering compared to 14:34-35, where women (or at least "wives," v. 35) are forbidden to speak in church.

Some groups prooftext chapter 11, while others use chapter 14. It must be admitted that the key to this passage is the first century cultural setting of Corinth, but which specific aspect is not clear to us today. The first century church knew of women's leadership in the OT and was aware of Paul's use of women in his ministry (cf. Romans 16). They understood the issue in Corinth and the Roman culture as we do not. Dogmatism is inappropriate!

A recent book, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change, by Bruce W. Winter, pp. 121-141, offers some very helpful insights from Roman literature and art. This and other articles (i.e., E. Fantham, "The 'New Woman': Representation and Reality," in Women in the Classical World, chapter 10, and P. W. J. Gill, "The Importance of Roman Portraiture for Head Coverings in I Corinthians 11:2-16," TynB 41.2 (1990): pp. 245-260 and "In Search of the Social Elite in the Corinthian Church," TynB 44.2 (1993): pp. 323-337), shows modern interpreters how first century Corinth was Roman, not Greek, in culture.

With these new documented insights from first century Roman Corinth, it is possible to begin to see the cultural issues Paul faced in this book.

1. Paul is not addressing Jewish culture nor Greek culture at all in this context.

2. Paul is addressing two groups with elite social status.

a. Wealthy, socially elite, male believers were showing off their positions by covering their heads while leading public worship, as was customary for this social class, while leading civic Greco-Roman religious worship. They were flaunting themselves.

b. The wealthy, elite wives were removing their culturally expected veil to flaunt their equality, not only in Christ, but also as a social statement, as were other Roman women of the period.

3. The citizens of Roman Corinth, who were curious about the Christian faith and worship practices, would send a "messenger" (i.e., angels of v. 10 may refer to servants or representatives sent on behalf of masters) to check out the meeting.

This historical/cultural/social information makes good sense of a very difficult and disputed text. It also fits other texts in I Corinthians, which obviously reflects a unique first century, Corinthian setting!


11:5 "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying" This implies strongly that with her head covered she may pray and prophesy in public meetings. The term "prophesying" in this book means "sharing the gospel" or "preaching publicly" (cf. 14:39). Verses 4 and 5 are parallel relating to what men and women do while participating in group worship. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY at I Cor. 14:1.

▣ "disgraces her head" Corinth was a Roman colony and reflected Roman culture. Roman women were marriageable in their early teens. The veil was a cultural aspect of the marriage service. It was expected to be worn outside the home by Roman women. Its absence would be seen as

1. a shamed woman

2. a prostitute

3. a dominant lesbian partner

4. a "new" woman (i.e., a social movement of equality and freedom active among Roman society in the first century)

A woman flaunting herself in this manner would have publicly shamed her husband and given the wrong impression about the church to visitors and the community. Christ makes males and females free, but each has an obligation to limit freedom for the cause of Christ. Women and men, wives and husbands who are believers are called on to live for the health and growth of the Kingdom! This is the theme of I Corinthians 8-10 and is continued in chapter 11.

▣ "she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved" This is a Perfect passive participle. There are several possibilities for understanding this phrase.

1. it refers to the common attire of local prostitutes

2. it is a cultural act of an adulterous woman's public shaming

3. it showed that shamed women were characteristic in the Mediterranean world for followers of the "Mystery Religions"

4. it refers to the culturally unexpected act of Christian women cutting their hair extremely short to show their new freedom (i.e., a cultural trend in first century Rome and its colonies)

In many commentaries option #1 is stressed. It is asserted that this must refer to the temple prostitutes of Diana. However, this temple on the Acropolis was destroyed by an earthquake 150 years before Paul's time and there is no historical evidence that it still functioned. There is also no evidence that prostitutes in Greece shaved their heads.

The key question is "What topic is Paul is addressing?"

1. appropriate or culturally expected worship attire and actions

2. abuse of personal freedoms

3. the appropriate relationship between

a. men and women

b. husbands and wives

c. angels and women (v. 10)

d. culture and women (v. 13)

I have come to understand #1 as the best option, addressing both husbands and wives not being led by their new freedom in Christ, but by their dogged refusal to put aside their cultural privileges and work toward the unity and growth of the church.

11:6 "if. . .if" There are two first class conditional phrases in this verse which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purpose. There were Christian women in the church who refused to cover their heads, but still wanted to be active in gathered worship. It was socially unacceptable. Believers must limit their new freedoms in Christ for

1. the weaker ones within the church (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13)

2. the cultural expectation of the society the church is seeking to evangelize and incorporate


NASB"does not cover her head"
NKJV"is not covered"
NRSV"will not veil herself"
TEV"does not cover her head"
NJB"go without a veil"

Historical data on the use of face coverings (i.e., veils) or shoulder-length head coverings by ancient Mediterranean people is very helpful. I have documented the latest evidence in the notes at 11:4. Roman women who were married, not widowed, and not a prostitute, were culturally expected to wear a veil in public as a sign that they were married. There were very few single women in the ancient Mediterranean world.

In Jewish culture the facial veil was used as a sign of

1. leprosy, Lev. 13:45

2. mourning for the dead, Ezek. 24:17,22

3. embarrassment, Micah 3:7

4. marriage, Gen. 24:65

5. prostitution, Gen. 38:14-15

However, remember Paul is not referring to Jewish culture at all because in that culture men cover their heads in worship.

"let her also have her hair cut off" This is an aorist middle imperative. This is not meant to be taken literally. Paul is not advocating a public shaming of Christian women, but he is asserting the cultural consequences for inappropriate activity!

▣ "let her cover her head" This is a Present middle imperative. Christian women for Christ's sake conform to the expected culture in order to reach people for salvation and church membership. The forms will change from culture to culture and age to age! The goal remains the same (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).

11:7 "he is the image and glory of God" This refers to Gen. 1:26-27, yet in the context of this verse Gen. 1:26 the word "man" is generic. Theologically it is uncertain exactly to what "image and likeness" in Gen. 1:26-27 refers. Most scholars would relate them to personality, self-consciousness, moral perspective, ability to choose, ability to relate to other "selves." There is an obvious mutuality between men and women in both Gen. 1:26-27 and 2:18. The problem comes in Gen. 3:16! See SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA) at I Cor. 2:7.


NASB"For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man"
NKJV"For man is not from woman, but woman from man"
NRSV"indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man"
TEV"for man was not created from woman, but woman from man"
NJB"for man did not come from woman; no woman came from man"

The term "originate" is not in the Greek text. It is only the preposition ek (i.e., out of), as is v. 12. Paul is asserting the order of creation in vv. 7 and 9 from Genesis 2 (i.e., Adam first, then Eve). However in vv. 8-9,11, Paul asserts their mutual dependance (which alludes to Gen. 1:27 and 2:18).

11:9 "man was not created for the woman's sake" We must remember that Paul's statement in Gal. 3:28 on the equality of women does not minimize the created distinctions between the sexes, at least in this age. The full equality of men and women in Christ does not automatically remove all cultural/traditional role expectations. Believers (male and female) do not flaunt personal freedoms, which may damage the reputation of the church among the unbelieving culture. Mature believers limit their freedom in Christ for the sake of His Kingdom. Believers have a corporate responsibility to (1) the body of Christ and (2) the unbelieving community!

11:10 "Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head" This text, as all the others in this context, can be understood in several ways. The key issue is what does "authority" (i.e., exousia) represent?

First, it should be noted that exousia is often related to dunamis. Otto Betz has an interesting article on exousia in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2, pp. 606-611. Here are five examples.

"It is characteristic for the NT that exousia and dunamis are both related to the work of Christ, the consequent new ordering of cosmic power-structures and the empowering of believers" (p. 609).

"The exousia of believers. The authority of a Christian believer is founded on the rule of Christ and on the disarming of all powers. It implies both freedom and service" (p. 611).

"He is free to do anything (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23 exestin); this assertion, which was made initially by the sectarian enthusiasts at Corinth, was taken up by Paul who acknowledged it to be correct" (p. 611).

"In practice, however, this theoretically unrestricted freedom is governed by consideration of what is helpful to other individual Christians and the congregation as a whole in view of the fact that complete redemption is still to come (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23)" (p. 611).

"'All things are lawful [exestin] for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful [exestin],' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (I Cor. 10:23ff). The quotation within these quotations are probably the slogans of the libertines at Corinth. Paul counters them by admitting their truth, but by showing that it is not the whole truth" (p. 611).

Paul uses these two terms often in his letters to the church at Corinth.

1. exousia, I Cor. 7:37; 9:4,5,6,12 (twice),18; 11:10; II Cor. 13:10

2. dunamis, I Cor. 1:18; 2:4,5; 4:19,20; 5:4; 15:24,43; II Cor. 4:7; 6:7; 8:3 (twice); 12:9; 13:4 (twice)

Rights and power were major issues for both the legalists and the libertines. Paul tries to walk a fine line between both extremes. In this context Christian women are encouraged to accept the God-given order of creation (i.e., Christ-man-woman) for the purpose of the furtherance of the Kingdom. Paul asserts the original mutuality (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18) in verses 11-12. It is very theologically dangerous to

1. isolate one verse in this context

2. apply a rigid systematic denominational grid on the issue of the relationship of men and women/husbands and wives of the first century to every culture in every century

3. to miss Paul's balance between Christian freedom and Christian corporate covenant responsibility

Where did Christian women get the freedom to participate as a leader in gathered (i.e., house-church) worship? Surely not from the synagogue. Was it a cultural trend from first century Roman society? This is surely possible and in my opinion helps explain many aspects of this chapter. However, it is also possible that the power of the gospel, the restoration of the original "image of God" lost in the Fall, is the source. There is a shocking new equality in all areas of human life and society. But this equality can be turned into a license for personal abuse. This inappropriate extension is what Paul is addressing.

F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, has really helped me think through many of the controversial issues related to the church traditions of modern western Christianity. As an exegete I had always thought that women's covering was meant to show God's giftedness (or the co-equality of Gen. 1:26,27), not her husband's authority. However, I could not find this interpretation among the biblical resources that I use, therefore, I was reluctant to put it in the commentaries or preach/teach it. I still remember the excitement and freedom I felt when f. F. Bruce thought the same thing (see Answers to Questions, p. 95). I think all believers are called, full-time, gifted ministers of Christ!

▣ "because of the angels" There are three lines of interpretation of this passage that relate to angels.

1. that the reference is to angels as representatives of God that are present in our worship services as observers, I Cor. 4:9; I Tim. 5:21; Ps. 138:1; and also the Dead Sea Scrolls

2. that these are evil angels with sexual desires similar to the angels in Gen. 6:2; II Pet. 2:4; and Jude 6; angels are mentioned often in I Corinthians (cf. 4:9; 6:3; 11:10; 13:1)

3. translate aňgelous as "messengers" instead of "angels"

The terms for messenger and angel are the same in both Hebrew (i.e., malak) and Greek (i.e., aňgelos). This theory is based on first century social customs (cf. Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, pp. 133-138). A person of status would not visit a house church without sending someone to check out the meeting first. This makes more sense than trying to link v. 10 to lustful angels or angels concerned with appropriate decorum (cf. Ps. 138:1) in gathered worship.

11:11-12 "in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" These verses emphasize the mutuality between men and women (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18; Gal. 3:26-29).

This freedom (i.e., return to the initial creation model of Gen. 1:26-27) must be expressed in appropriate ways within one's fallen culture. There is no doubting Paul's affirmation of Jesus' redemption totally changing every believer's status! We are all one in Christ. Our goal now is helping our fallen neighbors and citizens find this same redemption. There are still societal issues in every culture. Because believers can, does not mean believers should!

The use of "from" (i.e., ek, literally "out of") in this context (twice) seems to reinforce the use of "head" as "origin." Woman is out of man; man is out of God. The Genesis narrative also provides the basis for "head" as a proper order of creation. Both freedom in Christ and submission (cf. Eph. 5:21) are appropriate when the good of the church is the ultimate goal.

11:13-15 Paul uses this same approach in 10:15 where it could be sarcastic, based on his use of "wise men" (cf. 4:10; II Cor. 11:10), but here it does not seem sarcastic rather in the sense of "thinking culturally." Paul uses Corinthian/Greco-Roman/first century etiquette.

1. Married women should be veiled in public or in worship acts (v. 13).

2. Young men in Corinth cut their long hair at the transition to manhood (i.e., at ten years old). To keep the long hair was a cultural sign of femininity or homosexuality (v. 14).

3. Women with short hair were identified as either

a. one who had been publicly shamed

b. a prostitute (v. 15).

These are not spiritual insights nor biblical insights (i.e., they do not fit Jewish customs), but cultural insights.

11:13 "yourselves" This is emphatic.

11:14-15 "if. . .if" These are both third class conditional sentences, which speak of potential action.

Different English translations punctuate these verses as question(s) (i.e., NRSV, NJB); statements (i.e., NASB, TEV); or one question and one statement (i.e., NKJV). The particle denoting a question in v. 14 indicates a question that expects a "yes" answer.

11:16 "if" This is a first class conditional which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. There were contentious Christians in the church at Corinth.

NASB"one is inclined to be contentious"
NKJV"anyone seems to be contentious"
NRSV"anyone is disposed to be contentious"
TEV"anyone wants to argue about it"
NJB"anyone wants to be contentious"

The verb is a present active indicative, which implies continual action. This contentiousness is a continuing attitude for them. They love strife and contention!

The term "contentious" is a compound of philos (i.e., love) and veikos (i.e., strife). It is used of the Apostles at the Last Supper in Luke 22:24.

▣ "we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God" (cf. v. 4:17). Paul is not giving them something special (cf. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33). This church was glorying in its wisdom and freedom. They thought they had the right to live differently from other Christian churches. Paul asserts they do not!

▣ "church" See Special Topic: Church (ekklesia) at 1:2.

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, 21for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? 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 will not praise you.

11:17 Paul is starting a new subject, but the prideful attitudes of some Corinthian believers are still in focus. The subject changes, but the basic problem does not change.

1. their elitism

2. their emphasis on personal freedom

3. their assumption of wisdom

All of the subjects Paul addresses (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 16:1), which were sent to him by letters, revolve around these same issues.

Even their collective love feast (cf. Jude v. 12) was turned into a "more for me" feast! Right, ability, and status superceded love, service, and the health of the Body.

"I do not praise you" Paul has affirmed them in 11:2, but in this area he can only scold them.

"come together" This is the Greek compound term sunerchomai. Paul is very fond of sun compounds. The preposition basically means "together with." This term expresses the same idea as synagogue, which refers to the collective meeting of believers. Chapters 11-14 deal with gathered worship (cf. 11:17,18,20,33,34; 14:23,26).

I wonder how this "coming together" worked. There apparently were several different house churches in Corinth, possibly the source of some of the factious groups. Does Paul imply here that all the house churches meet jointly for the Lord's Supper?

11:18 "in the first place" This phrase can be understood in two ways.

1. of first importance (NKJV)

2. the first of two or more issues, however, there is no mention of a "second," etc. in the context

3. the same grammatical feature is found in Rom. 1:8


"divisions exist among you" These divisions are first mentioned in 1:10-17 and 3:3-4, but their presence is assumed throughout the book. In this context the division is not over leaders, but is characterized by socio-economic factors. This may define the factions as representing social classes as well as theological emphases.


NASB, NKJV "For there must also be factions among you"
NRSV"Indeed there have to be factions among you"
TEV"(No doubt there must be divisions among you"
NJB"that there should be differing groups among you"

The term is "faction" (v. 19, i.e., hairesis), from which we get the English word heresies. Its basic etymology is "to choose" or "select," but with the added connotation of showing special favor, choosing one and rejecting other choices (cf. Acts 24:14; I Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). It can be used to describe (1) a person who believes false teaching (cf. Titus 3:10) or (2) the false teaching itself (cf. II Pet. 2:1).

There is a different term used in v. 18, "divisions" (i.e., schisma), from which we get the English word schism. Its basic etymology is "to split" (cf. Matt. 27:51). It was used of groups dividing over an issue (cf. John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19; Acts 14:4; 23:7; I Cor. 1:10; 11:18).

Paul mentions a theological purpose (i.e., hina) and necessity (i.e., dei) for the presence of these differing groups. They were necessary for the true spiritual leaders to be clearly revealed. Mature leaders will become evident in times of crisis.

The other option is that some groups and their leaders will show by their actions that they are not Christians at all (cf. I John 2:19; Mark 4:16-19).

"that those who are approved" See Special Topic: Greek Terms Used for Testing at 3:13.

11:20 "it is not to eat the Lord's Supper" These privileged socially elite faction(s) were acting in a manner totally alien to the communal, self-giving precedent of Jesus' last meal with His disciples. The verses that follow clarify his point (cf. v. 22).

▣ "the Lord's Supper" This is the only occurrence of this phrase in the NT. This is another possible example of sarcasm. Nothing about their attitudes and actions compares with Jesus' attitudes and actions in giving Himself for sinful mankind!

The worship event goes by several names.

1. the Lord's Supper

2. "the table of the Lord" (I Cor. 10:21)

3. "breaking bread" (Acts 2:42; 20:7; I Cor. 10:16; 11:24 [cf. Luke 24:30])

4. thanksgiving (i.e., eucharist) or blessing (i.e., eulogia, Matt. 26:26-27; I Cor. 10:16; 11:24)


11:21 "each one takes his own supper first" The early church combined the Lord's Supper and a fellowship meal called "the Agape" (cf. II Pet. 2:13; Jude 12, and possibly Acts 20:7).

It is possible to understand this phrase in several ways.

1. The wealthy/educated/influential/high-born came early and ate their meal quickly so that when the poor arrived there was nothing, or hardly anything, left to eat.

2. Each person was to bring his own meal. The elite believers ate theirs quickly in the presence of the poor, or slave members of the church, who brought little or nothing.

The problem was selfishness and gluttony based on social distinctions instead of self-giving love, as Jesus' actions and precedent clearly taught. The Corinthian church did not believe that they were one in Christ. There was a radical dichotomy between

1. social haves vs.  have nots

2. wealthy vs. poor

3. men vs. women

4. freedmen vs. slaves

5. Romans vs. all others

6. spiritual elite vs. common believer

These distinctions are clearly spelled out in vv. 21 and 22.

▣ "one is hungry and another is drunk" Whether this was caused by Roman societal distinctions or selfishness, an unacceptable situation is clearly shown. The purpose of the memorial meal and the communal fellowship had been forgotten. This was a serious matter (cf. v. 23). This verse cannot be used to advocate total abstinence. It is obvious that wine was a part of this experience. It is the abuse that is condemned.


▣ "Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink" Some legalists and literalists have tried to use this as a proof-text for not eating in the church. History and context are always crucial in the interpretation of ancient literature. By quoting small parts of Scripture one can make the Bible/God say almost anything! As Gordon Fee says, "A book that can mean anything, means nothing!"

There is a series of rhetorical questions which reveal the emotion with which Paul is writing. He is shocked at the actions of some of the church (cf. James 2:6).

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

11: 23 "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you" Paul was not present at the Lord's Supper. He claims in Gal. 1:11-17 to have received revelation directly from Jesus and in Gal. 1:18-19, not to have received it from other Apostles or Jerusalem leaders. However, his words here reflect a knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels' traditions.

▣ "took bread" It is significant that Jesus did not use the Passover lamb as a symbol. It was linked too strongly with the Old Covenant (cf. Exod. 12). The loaf became the new symbol of unity (10:16-17).

11:24 "and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said" This points toward a specific historical act (i.e., the Passover meal in the upper room the night before Jesus was betrayed). Many Christians call the ordinance the Eucharist, which is from the Greek term for "to thank" (i.e., eucharisteō, cf. Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).

NASB"This is my body, which is for you"
NKJV"Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you"
NRSV"This is my body, that is for you"
TEV, NJB"This is my body, which is for you"

This is obviously metaphorical. Cannibalism would be a horror to any Jewish person. Jesus is using the broken bread as a symbol of His broken body on Calvary. As bread gives physical nourishment and life to those who eat it, so Jesus' actions give spiritual life to those who receive it.

There has been much theological debate about the meaning of Jesus' words. Much of the discussion is based on (1) the nature of the event and (2) the way God provides grace. Those who see this as a sacrament rely heavily on John 6, which in context, has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper.

There are several Greek manuscript variations in this phrase.

1. the Textus Receptus adds, "take, eat." This is found in the Greek MSS C3, K, L, and P. It is not original.

2. Paul's short phrase "for you" (cf. MSS P46, א*, A, B, C*) has been expanded by the early scribes in several ways:

(a)  "broken for you" (cf. MSS אi2, C3, D2, F, G)

(b)  "shed for you" (cf. MS D*)

3. (c)  "given for you" (cf. Luke 22:19)

UBS4 rates the shorter text (to huper humōn) as "A" (certain).

11:24-25 "do this in remembrance of Me" This is a either a present active indicative or a present active imperative. The imperative fits the context best. This symbolic meal is to be repeated regularly until Jesus returns.

It is interesting that in the record of the Lord's Supper in Matthew and Mark's Gospel the phrase "do this in remembrance of Me" is not included. However, it does appear in Luke 22:19 and I Cor. 11:24-25. It is so surprising that an obviously significant event in Jesus' life, which was to be repeated, is recorded with such variety in the Gospels and Paul's writings.

The NT does not specify how often this is to be repeated. Some groups of believers never do it (i.e., Quakers), others do it every week. Those Christian groups that have a sacramental view of the Supper obviously make it a recurrent (i.e., weekly) and central event. The early Palestinian believers may have observed it once a year in conjunction with the Passover (i.e., the Ebionites, cf. Origen and Epiphanius). Those Christians who are nervous about repeated rituals losing their impact and significance and do not see it as a channel of grace, usually observe the Supper less often (i.e., Southern Baptists' once a quarter).

11:25 "This cup is the new covenant" This new covenant is specifically mentioned in Jer. 31:31-34 (described in Ezek. 36:22-38). The Greek term for covenant originally meant "a will" or "last testament," but the meaning here reflects the Septuagint's use of the term as "covenant."

The concept of a "new covenant" must have been shocking to Jewish people. They were trusting in the permanency of the Mosaic covenant. Jeremiah had to remind them that YHWH's covenants were conditional on a faith-repentant response.


▣ "in My blood" This refers to the Hebrew concept of Jesus' sacrificial death (cf. II Cor. 5:21). Blood is an OT Hebrew idiom referring to a sacrifice given to God (cf. Lev. 17:11,14; Deut. 12:23). The first covenant was ratified with shed blood (cf. Exod. 24:8).


NRSV"For as often as you eat. . .drink"
TEV"That every time you eat. . .drink"
NJB"Whenever you eat. . .drink"

Notice that there is no specific times given here, or elsewhere, in the NT. In Acts the characteristic phrase to describe the Lord's Supper, "broke bread," is used of (1) a daily experience (2:42,46) or (2) Sunday worship (20:7,11). However, the phrase is also used of a regular meal (27:34-35).

▣ "you proclaim the Lord's death" This clearly shows the sacrificial aspect of Christ's death. The Lord's Supper is a backwards look at the death of Christ.

▣ "until He comes" The Lord's Supper is a forward look to the Second Coming (cf. 1:7; 4:5; 11:26; Mark 14:25).

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.


NRSV"whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord"
KJV"whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup of the Lord"
TEV"that if one of you eats the Lord's bread or drinks from his cup"
NJB"therefore anyone who eats the bread drinks the cup of the Lord"

"And" is not in the original text of v. 27, but it is in vv. 28 and 29. "Or" is in the Greek text. The King James Version translators were afraid of the Roman Catholic understanding where the priest drinks the wine and the laity the bread, and intentionally mistranslated this verse! The NKJV has corrected this intentional mistranslation (see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p. 154).

NRSV"in an unworthy manner"
TEV"in a way that dishonors him"

The context implies this refers to the disrupted unity of the church caused by the factious groups' arrogance and pride, but some have understood this to refer to the mandate for a proper spiritual attitude when observing the Lord's Supper (cf. Heb. 10:29).

11:28 "But a man must examine himself" This is a present active imperative. The term "examine" has the connotation of "to test with a view toward approval." See Special Topic: Greek Terms for "Testing" at 3:13. In one sense all Christians are unworthy because they all have and continue to sin. In this context it refers specifically to the disunity and factious spirits of some in the church at Corinth (cf. II Cor. 13:5).


NASB"if he does not judge the body rightly"
NKJV"not discerning the Lord's body"
NRSV"without discerning the body"
TEV"if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord's body"
NJB"without recognizing the body"

"His body" seems not to refer to (1) the physical body of Jesus nor (2) the participants, but to the Church as a group (cf. 10:17; 12:12-13,27). Disunity is the problem. A spirit of superiority or class distinctions destroys the fellowship.

▣ "judge" See note at 4:7 and Special Topic at I Cor. 10:29.

11:30 Paul is asserting in plain language that believers who violate the unity of the church may suffer temporal physical consequences, even death (cf. 3:17). This is directly connected to a lack of respect for the body of Christ, the church, the people of God (cf. Acts 5; I Cor. 5:5; I Tim. 1:20).

11:31 "if" This is a second class conditional sentence, which is called "contrary to fact." It should be translated "if we had judged ourselves rightly, which we did not, then we should not be judged, which we are." See note at 4:7.

11:32 "disciplined by the Lord" It is difficult to know when Christians are suffering because

1. they live in a fallen world

2. they are reaping the consequences of their sinful acts

3. they are being tested by the Lord for spiritual maturity (cf. Heb. 5:8)

God does test and discipline (cf. Heb. 12:5-11). It is an evidence of His love and our family status.

"so that we will not be condemned along with the world" The temporal judgment of believers who are hurting God's church may be an act of love in sparing them a more severe judgment related to destroying the church (cf. 3:10-17).

I like a quote from George Ladd in A Theology of the New Testament.

"The world also has its religion that holds men in a bondage of asceticism and legalism that may have the appearance of wisdom and promote a kind of devotion and self-discipline, but it ultimately fails to provide a solution for the moral dilemma with which man is faced (Col. 2:20ff). Viewed from this point of view the world stands under the judgment of God (I Cor. 11:32) and is in need of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:19; Rom. 11:15" (p. 399).

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

11:33 "when you come together to eat, wait for one another" This refers to v. 21. They were acting like selfish individuals, not a family, a body. They were acting in exactly the opposite way from Jesus' self-giving act of love.

11:34 "If" This is a First class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

▣ "let him eat at home" This is a present active imperative. If believers are so hungry that they act in an aggressive, selfish way at the Lord's Supper, then they should satisfy their hunger before they join a fellowship meal.

NASB"The remaining matters I will arrange when I come"
NKJV"And the rest I will set in order when I come"
NRSV"About the other things I will give instructions when I come"
TEV"As for the other matters, I will settle them when I come"
NJB"The other matters I shall arrange when I come"

Notice that God has not seen fit to pass on all the detailed description that Paul gave to this church. It is uncertain if this relates only to the Lord's Supper or other matters. The structure of I Corinthians (answering many unrelated questions) implies that it does. The essence of the Lord's Supper is not found in a rule book of liturgy, but in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The details of religious rituals are not as significant as a good heart toward God, which issues in a love for the church.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Are modern Christians to duplicate all of the rituals and forms of the NT church?

2. What does 11:2-16 say about female participation in leadership roles in public worship?

3. What does the veil correspond to today?

4. Explain the problem of unveiled women and veiled men in a Roman first century culture.

5. What is Paul's major purpose in discussing the Lord's Supper in chapter 11?

6. How do you explain v. 30?


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