1 Corinthians 11

1 Corinthians 11:3

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.

(a) Christ is the head of every man. Headship reflects origin. Christ is not the head of humanity because everyone worships and obeys him. (Some don’t.) He is the head because he was with God in the beginning and through him all things were made (John 1:2–3).

(b) The man is the head of a woman. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23). This does not mean the husband is the king or the boss of the home. Paul is talking about actual heads, like the one found on the top of your neck. “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). Just as a head supports the body, the body supports the head.

Headship reflects origin, not authority. The husband is the head because Eve was taken out of Adam (1 Cor. 11:8). If Eve had been made first, she would have been the head. Adam was first in the human race. Without Adam, there would have been no Eve, and without Eve, there would have been no more Adams. Since Adam was first on the dance floor, he takes the lead, and he does that by following the sacrificial example of Christ.

This matters because God’s original plan was for men and women to rule together, but they will never rule unless one of them takes the lead in laying down their life for the other. That someone is the husband (see entry for Eph. 5:25).

(c) God is the head of Christ because the Son comes from the Father.

1 Corinthians 11:4

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

(a) Something on his head. In this obscure passage on head coverings, Paul is saying, “If you’re male, don’t act like you’re female, and vice versa.” Alternatively, “If you’re married, don’t dress like you’re single.” There were two reasons for this exhortation, one practical and the other spiritual.

The practical reason is that Corinth was known for its sexual immorality…

(b) Prophesying. The gift of prophecy is the ability to impart truth from God’s heart in a way that encourages, strengthens, and comforts people (see entry for 1 Cor. 13:2).

1 Corinthians 11:5

But 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.

(a) Woman. Paul had no problem with women praying or prophesying in public.

(b) Uncovered. It seems the custom in Corinth was for married women to cover their heads (see next verse) and for men to have uncovered heads (see verse 7). A woman with an uncovered head was dressing immodestly.

(c) Shaved. To have a shaved head in first-century Corinth was disgraceful for a woman, possibly because of an association with enslaved temple prostitutes (see entry for 1 Cor. 6:18).

1 Corinthians 11:6

For 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.

(a) Her hair cut off. If you’re going to act like a prostitute (by going around with your head uncovered), you might as well look like a prostitute (and shave your hair).

(b) Cover her head. If you don’t want to be mistaken for a loose woman, cover your head.

Paul is not mandating dress codes for modern men and women. He is addressing an issue that was relevant to the church in Corinth. The city was known for its temples and sexual immorality, and Paul wanted to distance the church from that association.

1 Corinthians 11:9

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

Woman for the man’s sake. Some have misused this verse to teach that women were made to serve men. That is not what Paul is saying here (see entry for 1 Cor. 11:12). He is saying the first woman was created for relationship. God made Eve so Adam would have someone to love.

In the beginning, Adam was alone, and it was not good (Gen. 2:18). Then God created woman and the world became an infinitely better place. Eve was not made to be Adam’s servant; she was made to be his lover, the object of his affection.

Further reading: The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice

1 Corinthians 11:10

Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

(a) A symbol. The custom in Corinth was for married women to cover their heads. So a married woman who removed her head covering in a public place, was like a man or woman who removes their wedding ring before going into a bar. It sent a bad message.

The Corinthians had asked Paul whether celibacy was a good response to all the sexual immorality going on around them. Paul replied that a better response was for married couples to have a healthy sex life (see entry for 1 Cor. 7:2). If you are enjoying sex the way God intended, you will have no reason to remove the symbols of your marriage.

(b) Authority. The body of a married women is under the authority of her husband, just as his body is under her authority. In other words, she belongs to him and he belongs to her. As the Shulammite said, “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Solomon 2:16).

Marriage should be honored by all and it should especially be honored by those who are married. If you are married, don’t act like you are single. You are part of a one-flesh team. To dismiss the symbols of your union, whether they are headscarves, rings, or something else, is to disrespect your marriage partner and diminish one of God’s great gifts.

Further reading: “What’s with the head coverings?

(c) Angels. It seems angels are interested in the affairs of humanity and the well-being of the church (1 Cor. 4:9), but on this subject we can say little more.

Alternatively, this may be one of those times where the original word for angel (aggelos) may be better translated as messenger (as it is in Matt. 11:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 7:24, 27, 9:52, 2 Cor. 12:7 and Jas. 2:25). The Corinthian church was visited by apostles and teachers (messengers). If they saw a woman in the church with an uncovered or shorn head, they would not assume that she was married.

1 Corinthians 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.

Some say women are inferior to men because the first woman came from a man. Paul demolishes that nonsense by reminding us that every man came from a woman. If the first woman was inferior, as Chrysostom, Calvin and others have said, then all men must be inferior.

1 Corinthians 11:17

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.

The Corinthian services were a bad advertisement for Jesus. “Your meetings do more harm than good.” What were the Corinthians doing? They were forming cliques and playing silly games of one-upmanship (verses 18-19). But where they were really dropping the ball was during communion (verse 20). At the Lord’s Table, they acted like gluttons and got drunk while some missed out completely (v.21). Their selfish behavior was disgraceful (verse 22) and Paul wrote to correct it (verses 23-34).

1 Corinthians 11:20

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

The Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table is also known as partaking of communion or the eucharist. See entry for Communion.

1 Corinthians 11:23

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;

I received from the Lord. Paul’s understanding of how to partake of communion was not based on church tradition, but on what the Lord had shown him. Evidently Paul had heard the story of the Lord’s Supper that we find in Matt. 26:26-28 and Luke 22:17-20.

1 Corinthians 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 of Me.”

Paul repeats the words Jesus uttered to the disciples on the night he was betrayed. See entry for Luke 22:19.

1 Corinthians 11:25

In 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.”

(a) The new covenant in my blood; see entry for Luke 22:20.

(b) In remembrance of me. When we come to the Lord’s Table to partake of communion or the Eucharist, we remember Jesus and his sacrifice. See entry for Communion.

1 Corinthians 11:26

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

When you eat the bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death and triumphant victory over sin and all its effects.

1 Corinthians 11:27

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.

If you eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord without appreciating what Jesus accomplished, it’s like saying “Jesus died for nothing.” You are not honoring the Lord’s body and blood.

Paul is not prescribing worthiness tests for communion. He is saying, “Jesus’ death is a big deal. It’s something to value, so take a moment to reflect on it when you partake of the bread and the cup.”

Further reading: “Taking communion in an unworthy manner

1 Corinthians 11:28

But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we are to examine ourselves in light of what Christ has done. The word for examine means to test and by implication approve. Those in Christ need to see themselves as approved by God. This is how we remember or honor Jesus (1 Cor. 11:25).

Under the old covenant, the priests at the temple examined the sacrificial lamb, not the one who brought it. In the new covenant, Christ is our Lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:19). During communion we examine him and see ourselves as tested and approved in him.

1 Corinthians 11:29

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

If you eat and drink without understanding all that the Lord accomplished on the cross, it’s like saying, “I’m still under judgment.” If you don’t believe his sacrifice dealt with all your sin, you’ll remain under guilt and condemnation. What’s the remedy? It’s remembering Jesus and what he did on the cross (1 Cor. 11:25). It’s examining yourself in light of what he has done (1 Cor. 11:28).

1 Corinthians 11:30

For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

Jesus’ sacrifice provided everything we need for salvation and healing, but if you don’t receive from that provision, you’ll remain weak and sick. This is what was happening in Corinth. Since they weren’t valuing the Lord’s sacrifice (as evidenced by the disgraceful way they did communion), some remained sick and even died prematurely.

Before you partake of the bread and the cup, take a look at yourself. Are you sick? Are you battling guilt and condemnation? Are you giving place to things that Jesus carried in his body and paid for with his blood? If so, remember Jesus who died so that you might live and by whose stripes you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24).

1 Corinthians 11:31

But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.

If we judged ourselves in light of the finished work of the cross (forgiven, accepted, healed), then we would not suffer the punishing effects of sin (condemnation, rejection, sickness).

1 Corinthians 11:32

But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

When we renew our minds and learn to discern what is from the Lord and what is not, we are trained up and no longer suffer sin’s harmful effects. Unlike those who reject the grace of God revealed in Jesus, we can live free from sickness and condemnation.

1 Corinthians 11:33

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

Wait for one another. Communion is for everyone, not the favored few. The selfish Corinthians had been rushing in with a greed that meant some went without. “One gets drunk; remains hungry” (1 Cor. 11:21). But Jesus encouraged all of his disciples to partake of the bread and cup. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out (see entry for Matt. 26:27).

1 Corinthians 11:34

If 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.

(a) If anyone is hungry. The Lord’s Table is not a buffet.

(b) Judgment. Coming together for judgment means presenting the gospel or doing communion in a way that alienates people from God. Unbelievers who witnessed the Corinthians at the Lord’s Table would not have had left with a good understanding of what Jesus did for them. Seeing the drunk and gluttonous Corinthians they might’ve thought, “This Jesus is a joke.” That’s a bad judgment.

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