1 Corinthians 11

These notes are based on the NASB text.

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

Paul challenged his readers to be good examples to others and then invited them to follow his example. This was possible because Paul patterned his life after the Lord’s.

11:2 Now I praise you because you [continually] remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions [Christian teachings], just as I delivered them to you.

Paul issued a brief word of praise before offering instruction on the issues of the proper attire and attitude of women in worship and the proper attitude of believers toward the Lord’s Supper. It is possible that the Corinthians had asked Paul about these matters in their letter to him [see 1 Corinthians 7:1].

Apparently there was some concern over the matter of women, who were free in Christ, worshipping without their heads covered according to the traditional custom of the day. Paul addressed this particular issue by first referring to the order of things in creation.

11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head [may mean “source” in this context] of every man, and the man is the head [the “source” or “origin” and explanation of her being] of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

Notice the order of things in this verse:

[A] God

[B] Christ

[C] Man

[D] Woman

11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying [speaking to God] or prophesying [speaking for God], disgraces his head [that is, Christ].

Devout Jews always wore a cap when they prayed. Brian Harbour explains that the Jewish men covered their heads in recognition of their sinfulness and God’s holiness [Bible Book Study Commentary, page 81]. But in Christ it was no longer necessary for men to cover their heads. Paul explained that it was not necessary for men to cover their heads in verse 7: “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God.”

11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head [that is, her husband]; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.

11:6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off [or cut short]; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

Both Greek men and women worshiped in the pagan temples with their heads uncovered, unlike the Jewish men and women who worshiped with their heads covered. Perhaps some of these converts failed to realize the significance of the issue under consideration when they came to Christ. Perhaps some of the women in the church were saying, “All things are lawful for me, therefore I will not cover my head!”

The phrase “while praying and prophesying” indicates that women were permitted to have a role in public worship. A woman “praying and prophesying” with her head uncovered [in Paul’s day] would distract from the message. She would draw attention to herself rather than to the message.

In Paul’s day, prostitutes wore their hair short and did not cover their heads. Because it was customary in Paul’s day for women to cover their heads in public, failure to do so would readily identify a woman with an uncovered head as a prostitute. J. Vernon McGee writes that the vestal virgins in the temple of Aphrodite had their heads shaved. In addition, a woman guilty of adultery was punished by having her head shaved. Thus for a Christian woman to participate in public worship without her head covered would bring dishonor to her husband and impair her witness in a society that expected women to cover their heads. Such action on the part of women would run contrary to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32.

11:7 For 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 [see Genesis 2:18-23].

11:8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man [a reference to God’s order in creation; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13];

11:9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

11:10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority [that is a veil or covering] on her head, because of the angels [some believed that angels were present at worship services and would be shocked by such behavior on the part of women, especially in light of the fact that angels cover their faces in God’s presence (cf. Isaiah 6:2)].

11:11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

11:12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.

Paul stressed the interdependence of man and woman. In a culture and world that viewed women as inferior, Paul elevated women to a new height. It was only “in the Lord” that this could be possible in Paul’s day.

11:13 Judge [decide] for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?

11:14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,

11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for [instead of] a covering [a woman’s long hair can serve as a covering “and as a symbol of their submission to God’s order” -Wiersbe].

Regarding the length of a man’s hair:
[A] “Jewish men wore middle length hair which was usually well-groomed.” [Rienecker/Rogers]

[B] “Sometimes long hair was associated with homosexuality, but long hair was not uncommon for philosophers, farmers, barbarians, etc.” [Rienecker/Rogers]

[C] “Nowhere does the Bible tell us how long our hair should be. It simply states that there ought to be a noticeable difference between the length of men’s hair and the woman’s hair so that there is no confusion of the sexes.” [Warren Wiersbe]

Regarding a woman’s hair:
The reference to “long hair” in verse 15 is to a “hairdo which was neatly held in place by means of ribbons or lace. What is required by these verses is an orderly hairdress which distinguishes a woman from a man.” [Rienecker/Rogers]

11:16 But if one is inclined to be contentious [strife-loving, contentious, quarrelsome], we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Rienecker/Rogers comment, “He means we have no such custom such as women praying or prophesying with head uncovered.”

11:17 But in giving this instruction I do not praise you, because you come together [see Acts 2:42 and 46] not for the better but for the worse.

Paul addressed a new topic beginning in verse 17, namely the matter of the Lord’s Supper and the “love feast” which preceded it. Because of abuses, the coming together of the church for a fellowship meal and the observance of the Lord’s Supper was “not for the better but for the worse.”

11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear [that is, “I keep on hearing…”] that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it.

In Paul’s day, a social meal or fellowship preceded the observance of the Lord’s Supper. These fellowship meals were called “love [agape] feasts.” These meals led to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul had learned that when the Corinthians assembled on these occasions there were “divisions” among them. This is either a reference to the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 or to the division of rich and poor. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians were observing the Lord’s Supper in separate cliques or groups rather than as a united congregation.

11:19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident in you.

Factions have a way of separating the genuine from the bogus.

11:20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,

11:21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

These verses contain several of the violations of which the Corinthians were guilty.

[A] They had lost sight of the purpose of their gathering for a fellowship meal. Paul said that they gathered “not to eat the Lord’s Supper…[but their] own supper.” Their observance of the supper could not be called the Lord’s Supper because it was such a far departure from what the Lord’s Supper was to be.

[B] They did not wait for all to arrive at the “love feast” before eating. They ate in groups without regard to those who arrived late or had little to contribute to the “covered-dish” affair. The late-arrivers, usually the poor, went hungry.

[C] Some even got drunk at the fellowship meal.

In such a setting the rich showed no love or consideration to the poor and the poor very likely became resentful of the rich.

11:22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God [a reference to believers], and shame [the poor were embarrassed rather than edified] those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

If the Corinthians wanted to act in such a manner, they could do it in their own homes. But do behave in such a manner when the believers assembles was to “despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing.”

11:23 For I received from the Lord [see Galatians 1:11-12] that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;

The phrase “in the night in which He was betrayed” “anchors the Lord’s Supper in history” [BBC, Vol. 10].

11:24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance [“The word indicates to call back again into memory a vivid experience.” -Rienecker/Rogers] of Me.”

“To remember is to make vivid, to make real, to recall and make contemporary the reality of the deed” [BBC, Vol. 10].

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood [“Blood indicated a life given up in death which was the penalty for breaking the covenant.” -Rienecker/Rogers]; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim [the gospel is preached through the act of the Lord’s Supper] the Lord’s death until He comes.

The believer who observes the Lord’s Supper must look in several directions:

[A] He must look within, as Paul instructs in verses 27 and 28. He must not approach the Lord’s Supper and partake of it in an unworthy manner.

[B] He must look back to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He must look back to the event that made possible his redemption.

[C] He must look ahead. We have been instructed to observe the Lord’s Supper “until He comes.” The believer observes the Lord’s Supper and lives his life for the Lord in the hope of the second coming.

[D] He must look around. The believer must partake of the Lord’s Supper with fellow believers. He is a part of the body of Christ, the church.

[E] He must look up. The believer must acknowledge and maintain an awareness of the Lord’s presence.

11:27 Therefore [it follows] whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy [“unworthy” is not a reference to the person but to the manner in which a person observes the Supper] manner [“not in accordance with their value” -Rienecker/Rogers], shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord [“By one’s conduct at the Supper one shows whether he confesses Christ or crucifies Him.” -BBC, Vol. 10].

To partake of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” is as Paul described in verses 17-22. “One eats in an unworthy manner when he does not act out of love for the fellowship of the church, also when he is insensitive to the presence of Christ, ungrateful for his sacrificial death, and irresponsive to the meaning of his redemption” [BBC, Vol. 10].

11:28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Believers should “examine” themselves in regard to:

[A] Sin. The believer should examine himself in regard to sin in his life and repent of that sin.

[B] Relationships with others. The believer should examine himself in regard to his relationships. If he is at odds with a brother he should seek reconciliation.

[C] Relationship with the Lord. The believer should examine himself in regard to his relationship to the Lord and devote himself anew to following and obeying the will of God.

[D] Attitude regarding the Lord’s Supper. A believer should reflect on the deep meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper and examine himself regarding his attitude toward taking the Supper.

11:29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.

11:30 For this reason [because some have failed to examine themselves] many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

11:31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.

11:32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.

11:33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat [the meal that precedes the Lord’s Supper], wait [to wait in turn] for one another.

11:34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come.

Practical Considerations

Our attire should not distract from worship.
We should be careful lest our attire distract from worship. The worship service is a time to focus on our heavenly Father rather than on earthly fashion. We should exercise good sense in our worship attire [in our cultural setting] lest we distract others from worship.

Christian freedom should be exercised with love and sensitivity.
Our Christian freedom should not embolden us to do things that will cause others to stumble [or perhaps even to grumble]. We should not insist on exercising our freedom if it will cause a problem among God’s people and we be perceived as being contentious [see 1 Corinthians 11:16].

We should partake of the Lord’s Supper prayerfully and soberly.
The Lord’s Supper should not be approached with a reckless or flippant attitude. We should approach the Lord’s Supper with an awareness of the great cost of our redemption and of our blessed hope in Christ Jesus. We should approach the Lord’s Supper with an awareness of its deep meaning and significance.

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