(1) Be ye followers of me.—See concluding Note on 1 Corinthians 10.
The head of every man is Christ.—The Apostle does not merely treat of the outward practice on which his advice has been sought, but proceeds to lay down the principles which are opposed to the principle of that absolute and essential equality, which, found its expression and assertion in the practice of women uncovering their heads in public assemblies.
The allusion here is not to Christ as the Head of the whole human race and of all things (as in Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10), but as the Head of “the Body,” the Christian Church: and this thought introduces the general argument regarding the practical subordination of woman, by reminding the Corinthians that though there is in the Church a perfect spiritual equality (as taught in Galatians 3:28), yet that it is an equality which is of order and not of disorder—that it is an equality which can only be preserved by remembering that each is not an isolated irresponsible atom, but a part of an organic whole. There is a Head to the Church, therefore it is not a machine composed of various parts, but a body consisting of various members. As there is a subordination of the whole body to Christ, so there is in that body a subordination of woman to man. The last clause, “the Head of Christ is God,” gives (as is St. Paul’s custom, see 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:25) completeness to the thought. As the Head of the Church—i.e., as the man Christ Jesus—Christ is subordinate to the Father, and, indeed, perhaps the idea is carried farther into the mystery of the divine nature itself, as consisting of three Persons co-eternal and co-equal, yet being designated with an unvarying sequence as “first,” and “second,” and “third.”
Dishonoureth his head.—He dishonours his own head inasmuch as it is the part of his body from which Christ has taken His title as “Head of the Body,” the Church—and thus he dishonours his Spiritual Head. even Christ.
Dishonoureth her head.—Both among Jews and Greeks the long tresses of a woman were her glory. Only in times of mourning (Deuteronomy 21:12), or when convicted of shameful sin, was a woman to have her hair cut short.
Here, again, the word “head” must be taken in its double significance. A woman with uncovered head dishonours that head itself by making it thus in the sight of others the type of a shame which is really not hers, and as her head typically is her husband, so she dishonours him also.
It is to be remembered all through this passage (and it gives a further emphasis to the allusion to Adam and Eve) that St. Paul is only speaking of married women—it is most unlikely that any case had occurred of an unmarried woman attempting such an outrage upon social feeling and national custom. The Greek women when in public (except those of avowedly bad character) either wore a veil or drew the peplum, or shawl, over their heads.
1. There have been many—some of them most fanciful—suggestions that the word for power (exousia) may have crept in instead of some other word by the mistake of some copyist; or that the word used by St. Paul may have been exiousa—“When she goes out in public;” or two words (ex ousias)—“in accordance with her nature.” All explanations, however, which require an alteration in the Greek text of the passage must be set aside, for (1) there is no MS. evidence whatever to support any other reading than the ordinary one, exousian; and (2) any alteration of a difficult or unusual word would have been naturally into a word that would simplify the passage—whereas here, if alteration has taken place, it has been to insert a word which has increased the obscurity of a difficult passage.
2. It has been maintained that the word exousia here means the sign of power, i.e., a veil, which is the symbol of the husband’s power over the wife. The fatal objection to this view, however, is that exousia expresses our own power, and not the power exercised by another over us. It is a word frequently used by St. Paul in this sense. (See 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 9:4-5; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 9:18.) Whatever interpretation, therefore, we put upon this passage, it must be consistent with this word being interpreted as meaning some “power” which the woman herself has, and not some power exercised over her by her husband.
Most commentators have quoted a passage from Diodorus Sic. i. 47, in which the Greek word “kingdom” (basileia) is used to signify “crown,” as an illustration of the use of the word indicating the thing symbolised for the symbol itself. The parallelism between that use of the word kingdom, and the use here of the word “power,” has been very positively denied (Stanley and others), on the ground that the “use of the name of the thing signified for the symbol, though natural when the power spoken of belongs to the person, would be unnatural when applied to the power exercised over that person by some one else.” But the parallelism will hold good if we can refer the “power” here to some symbol of a power which belongs to the woman herself.
If we bear in mind the Apostle’s constant use of words with a double significance, or rather with both an obvious and a subtly implied meaning, and if we also recall the reference made to a woman’s abundance of hair in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, and the further reference to a woman’s long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, where the hair of the woman, given her by nature, and the wearing of a veil are used as almost identical thoughts, we may, I think, conclude that the “power” here spoken of is that long hair which is called in 1 Corinthians 11:15 her “glory.” It is remarkable that Callistratus twice uses this word exousia in connection with hair to express its abundance. To the Jews the recollection of Samson’s history would have given the word “power,” when applied to hair, a remarkable significance. To thus turn aside abruptly in the middle of a long passage in which woman’s subordination is enforced, and speak suddenly and vividly of her “power,” would be eminently Pauline. In the Apostle’s writings the thought of inferiority and superiority, of ruler and server, are frequently and almost paradoxically regarded and enforced as identical. To serve because you rule; to be weak because you are in another sense strong, are thoughts strikingly combined again and again in the Epistles of St. Paul. Thus I would imagine him here to suddenly turn aside and say, I have been speaking of your bondage and subordination, you are, because of this, to have a covering (a veil or long hair) on your head as a sign, and yet that very thing which is the symbol of your subjection to man is the sign of your beauty and “power” as a woman.
Because of the angels.—Why should a woman have her head covered (either with her natural veil of hair, or with an artificial veil shrouding her face) because of the angels? The same objections which have been already stated to any alteration of the usual Greek text of the earlier clause of this verse apply equally here. The MS. evidence is unanimous in favour of the word “angels,” nor can we accept any of the figurative meanings attached to the word angel as “the president” (see Revelation 2:1), or “messenger,” sent by enemies to see what took place contrary to general custom in those assemblies. We must take the word “angel” in its ordinary and general sense.
That the angels were present in assemblies for worship was an idea prevalent among the Jews (Psalm 138:1, in the LXX.), and regarded as they were by the Christian as “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14), no doubt their presence would be realised in the meetings of Christians.
We have already seen that the Apostle in his argument upon the relation of the sexes to each other (1 Corinthians 11:7-9), refers to the first three chapters of Genesis as illustrating and enforcing that relationship. What more natural than that his thoughts should have gone on to 1 Corinthians 6 of the same book, where is the record of the angels (in the LXX. the word translated “sons of God” is “the angels”—angeloi) having been enamoured by the beauty of women, and so having fallen from their high estate. This account of “the fall of the angels” is referred to more than once elsewhere in the New Testament (see Jude 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Peter 2:4), and through Rabbinical interpretations would have been familiar to St. Paul’s converts. Without at all necessarily expressing his belief in the historic accuracy of this legendary view of the fall of the angels, St. Paul might use it as an argument with those who did believe it (as in the case of the Rock. see 1 Corinthians 10:4, and Note there). You believe—would be St. Paul’s appeal to these women—that once, through seeing the beauty of the daughters of men, the holy angels themselves fell—even that thought ought to make you feel that it is not seemly for you to be without a veil (of which your “power on your head,” i.e., your hair, is the type) in those assemblies where the angels are present as God’s ministering spirits.
It has been urged (by Meyer and others) that the word “angels,” in the New Testament, always signifies good angels, and it is in that sense I would regard it here, for the thought surely is, that they are good angels, and should not, therefore, be tempted. I presume the idea was also that the fallen angels were “good” before their fall.
But all things of God.—Thus, as usual, St. Paul completes the thought by tracing all up to God. The mediate processes of their origin may differ, but the source of their being is common—they, and all beings, and all things, and the sequence of all things come of God. (See 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 5:18.)
It may be well to make two general remarks on the scope and bearing of this remarkable passage.
1. As St. Paul taught regarding Slavery (1 Corinthians 7:21) that the object of Christianity was not to suddenly efface existing political arrangements, so he teaches here that Christianity did not seek to obliterate these social distinctions which were universally recognised. We know now how mighty an instrument Christ’s Religion has been in elevating the social condition of woman, but this has been accomplished by gradually leavening the world with Christian principle, and not by sudden external revolution. The arguments and illustrations which the Apostle here employs have a more abiding and a wider application than the particular case to which he applied them. They have been written “for our learning” as well as for the instruction of those to whom they were originally addressed. And the lesson which they teach us is, that Christianity did not come to unsex woman, but to raise, dignify, and ennoble her as woman—to abolish for ever her real wrongs, but not to yield to a revolutionary clamour for imaginary rights. Old and New Testament alike emphasise the truth that (as has been quaintly and truly said) “woman was not made from man’s head to be his ruler, nor from his feet to be his slave, but from his side to be his equal, and from beneath his strong arm to demand his protection.”
2. The influence of St. Paul’s instruction as to women not uncovering their heads in public worship has lasted long after the necessity for that particular expression of her relationship to man has passed away. While, in succeeding ages, again and again, some have forgotten the principles of the teaching, which are eternal, the particular application of them, which was only temporary, has been continuously and universally observed. Surely this is an illustration and evidence of the Divine Wisdom which withheld the apostolic writers from, as a rule, laying down minute directions for worship, or dogmatic formulas of faith. Men would, in a servile obedience to rules, have soon and completely forgotten the living principles on which they were based. To this day the universal custom in Christian places of worship, of women being covered and men uncovered, and the increasing revolt against the acknowledgment of the subordination of woman to man, of which that practice was originally the avowed symbol, is a striking proof of how the same spirit, which led Jews of old to be scrupulous in their observance of certain external ordinances, while forgetting the weighter matters of which they were to be the outward expression, was not merely a Jewish but a human weakness.
I praise you not.—This carries the thought back to 1 Corinthians 11:2, and shows that the commendation expressed there is still the writer’s starting-point, or rather the point of departure from which he proceeds to censure.
That ye come together.—Although in the English version the word “you” is inserted (“I praise you not”), it does not occur in the Greek. The passage is not, “I do not praise you because, &c.,” but, “I do not praise your coming together not for the better, but for the worse.” These words introduce the new topic which follows.
It is better to consider the “first point” to be the abuse regarding the Lord’s Supper, which is more immediately treated of; and the “second point,” the abuse of spiritual gifts, commencing with 1 Corinthians 12:1. They are two branches of the one general subject, viz., “Irregularities in religious assemblies,” and although the latter is not connected with the former by a definite “secondly,” there is a sufficient verbal indication that a second topic is entered upon. It is well to remember in this and similar cases that this is not a treatise, but a letter, and not only a letter, but an answer to a letter, and that if we had a copy of the epistle to which this is a reply, many points of sequence and arrangement, which at present present difficulties, would be as clear to us as they were to those who originally received this Epistle.
When ye come together in the church.—The reference here is not to a locality, but to the character of the assembly, as we should say “in church,” or, “in parliament.” The spirit of faction, which has already, in the earlier part of this Epistle, been dealt with, as pervading Christian society, had invaded the Christian assemblies.
I partly believe it.—These words are full of the courtesy and charity so characteristic of the Apostle; and they suggest to us all a lesson regarding our belief of evil reports, even when reaching us on “the very best authority.” The general practice is to believe a little more than we are told. St. Paul believed a part only of what he was told.
The shame which a poor man will feel when the rich come to these feasts bringing supplies for their own private use, and not for general distribution, will arise both from the striking contrast which will come out all the more vividly from his poverty being brought into such direct contact with the wealth of the rich, and from the evident dislike of the rich to partake of a common meal with the poor. Thus those assemblies will, through the misconduct of the wealthier Christians, have precisely the opposite result from that which they were intended to accomplish. It will be an assembly in one place, but not to partake of one supper—even that which is dedicated to the Lord. The Apostle asks indignantly whether such conduct can be included in the catalogue (see 1 Corinthians 11:17) of those things for which he can praise them, and then in the following verses shows how such conduct cannot be worthy of praise, inasmuch as it is entirely at variance with the solemn and sacred circumstances in which the Lord’s Supper originated.
The whole structure of the passage seems to imply that what follows had been received by St. Paul directly from Christ, and that he is not appealing to a well-known tradition, in which case he would scarcely have used the singular, “I received,” nor to something which he had learnt from the other Apostles, in which case he would not have said “I” emphatically (the word being emphasised by expression in the Greek), nor “from the Lord,” for the other Apostles had not received their knowledge of these facts “from the Lord,” but from their own observation and hearing. How Christ thus communicated these truths to His new Apostle we are not told. The method of communication (whether in a trance, or state of ecstasy, or any other supernatural manner) does not appear to cause either doubt or difficulty to those to whom the Apostle conveyed the information thus miraculously bestowed upon him.
That which also I delivered unto you.—The Apostle was not now for the first time communicating these solemn facts to the Corinthians. He had told them all this before, and therefore they were sinning against knowledge when they degraded a feast which they knew to be so solemn to a purpose so unworthy.
There now follows an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which, as compared with the accounts given in the Gospel narratives (see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20), possesses some noteworthy features. The Evangelists (St. Matthew and St. Mark) wrote their accounts many years after the occurrence, and recorded what they remembered to have observed and heard. St. Paul writes here, within a very few years at all events of his having received it, an account of what had been directly communicated by the Lord. This was also most probably the first written record of what occurred on that solemn night.
The fact that St. Luke’s narrative agrees most closely with St. Paul’s, would imply, not as some rationalising critics insinuate, that St. Paul was indebted to St. Luke; but that St. Luke attached high value to an account which his companion had received directly from the glorified Christ. The only differences of any importance between St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s narrative are—(1) St. Luke writes “given for you;” St. Paul omits the word “given” (see Note on 1 Corinthians 11:24). (2) St. Luke omits the words “this do ye as oft as ye drink it,” after the giving of the cup; but he implies them by stating that the cup was given “in like manner” to the bread, in connection with which he records these words. The suggestion that St. Luke copied his account of the Last Supper from this Epistle is a mere speculation, and in the highest degree improbable. If that Evangelist had used this Epistle in writing his Gospel, is it likely that he would have been content with giving the somewhat scanty account of our Lord’s appearances after His resurrection, when he had at hand the much ampler record of the appearance to the 500 brethren and to James, which this Epistle contains? (1 Corinthians 15)
In all the narratives, however, the outlines of the scene are the same. There can be no mistake as to their all being truthful and (as the minor discrepancies prove) honestly independent records of an actual historical scene. It is worthy of remark that in the heated controversies which have raged around the Eucharistic Feast as to its spiritual significance, its evidential value has been frequently lost sight of. If the Betrayal and Crucifixion are not historical facts, how can we account for the existence of the Eucharistic Feast? Here is an Epistle whose authenticity the most searching and ruthless criticism has never disputed. We have evidence of the existence of this feast and its connection with events which occurred only twenty years before. If we bear in mind that the Apostles were Jews, and yet spoke of that wine which they drank as “blood”—that they were lovingly devoted to the person of Christ, and yet spake of that bread which they ate as His “flesh”—can the wildest imagination conceive of that practice having originated with themselves as their most solemn religious rite, and the profoundest expression of their love to their Lord? Could anything but the record given in the Gospel narrative possibly account for such a ceremony holding such a place in a sect composed of Christianised Jews? A dark conspiracy like that of Catiline might have selected the tasting of human blood as the symbol of the conspirators’ sanguinary hate of all human order and life; but such a band of men as the early Christians certainly could not of their own thought have made such a choice, and publicly proclaimed it. And if this be true—if Jesus, the night before an ignominious death, instituted this strange and solemn rite, which has been handed down century after century in unbroken continuity—can that foresight as to the future of His Church be assigned to one who was less than what Christendom claims her Lord to be? When Christ died His Apostles gave up all as lost, and went back sorrowfully to their old work as fishermen; Christendom was not an afterthought of the Apostles, but the forethought of the Lord.
The same night in which he was betrayed.—These words imply that the history of the Betrayal was familiar, and they also solemnly and touchingly remind the Corinthians of the strange contrast between the events of that night and the scenes in which they indulge now on the same night that they partake of that supper.
This do in remembrance of me—i.e., all that was done then. Bless the bread, break it, distribute it, eat it. When I am no longer with you bodily, these acts will make memory grow into realisation of My presence in your midst. If the soft music of those words could reach us now, disentangled from the theological discords of intervening ages, surely they would come to us with some such significance. To those who first heard them they certainly must have implied not that a physical presence was about to be perpetuated, but rather that there was now something for them which would in after ages console them for a physical absence.
This cup is the new testament.—Better, This cup is the new covenant. The word “new” is peculiar to this and St. Luke’s narrative; it does not occur in the best MSS. of St. Matthew and St. Mark. The new covenant of grace between God and Humanity was ratified in the blood of Christ. The cup containing the symbol of that blood is therefore the pledge and witness of that covenant. This was a new covenant in blood (Romans 3:25) as contrasted with the old covenant in blood (Exodus 24:8).
As oft as ye drink.—This can scarcely be taken as a command to make all occasions of bodily refreshment virtually a eucharist, but must be regarded as referring definitely (as in the following verse) to this particular rite.
In the pathetic words “until He come” we may find an expression of the belief, perhaps largely due to the hope, that the Second Advent was not far distant.
Sin was the cause of that body being broken and that blood shed, and therefore the one who unworthily uses the symbols of them becomes a participator in the very guilt of those who crucified that body and shed that blood.
(28) So let him eat.—This implies that a man should partake of this sacred feast only after he has carefully examined himself as to the spirit in which he was approaching such holy bread and wine.
Damnation to himself.—The Greek word hero does not imply final condemnation. On the contrary, it only means such temporal judgments as the sickness and weakness subsequently mentioned, and which are to save the man from sharing the final damnation of the heathen.
Not discerning the Lord’s body.—The words “the Lord’s” are to be omitted, the weight of MS. evidence being altogether against their authenticity. 1 Corinthians 11:30 is a parenthesis, and 1 Corinthians 11:31 re-opens with this same verb. The force of the passage is, “He who eats and drinks without discerning the Body (i.e., the Church) in that assembly, eats and drinks a judgment to himself; for if we would discern ourselves we should not be judged.”
There are some important points to be borne in mind regarding this interpretation of the passage. (1) The Greek word, which we render “discerning,” “discern,” signifies to arrive at a right estimate of the character or quality of a thing. (2) The fault which St. Paul was condemning was the practice which the Corinthians had fallen into of regarding these gatherings as opportunities for individual indulgence, and not as Church assemblies. They did not rightly estimate such gatherings as being corporate meetings; they did not rightly estimate themselves as not now isolated individuals, but members of the common Body. They ought to discern in these meetings of the Church a body; they ought to discern in themselves parts of a body. Not only is this interpretation, I venture to think, the most accurate and literal interpretation of the Greek, but it is the only view which seems to me to make the passage bear intelligibly on the point which St. Paul is considering, and the real evil which he seeks to counteract. (3) To refer these words directly or indirectly to the question of a physical presence in the Lord’s Supper, is to divorce them violently from their surroundings, and to make them allude to some evil for which the explicit and practical remedy commended in 1 Corinthians 11:33-34 would be no remedy at all. Moreover. if the word “body” means the Lord’s physical body, surely the word “Lord’s” would have been added, and the words, “and the blood,” for the non-recognition of the blood would be just as great an offence. (4) St. Paul never uses the word “body” in reference to our Lord’s physical body, without some clear indication that such is meant. (See Romans 7:4; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:22.) On the other hand, the use of the word “Body,” or “Body of Christ,” meaning the Church, is frequent. We have had it but a few verses before, in reference to this very subject (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is also to be found in Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30. (In this last passage, “of His flesh and of His bones,” are not in the best MSS., and destroy the real force of the “Body,” which means “Church.”)
And many sleep.—Better, and some die. Even death sometimes resulted from their drunken orgies, either naturally, or by God’s direct visitation.
From the foregoing we gather the following outline of the method of celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Apostolic Church.
It was a common practice amongst the Greeks at this time to hold a feast called eranos, to which all contributed, and of which all partook. A similar arrangement soon sprang up in the Christian communities, and were called agapæ, or “charity-feasts.” At these gatherings was celebrated—probably at first daily, and afterwards weekly—the Lord’s Supper. It consisted of two parts—a loaf broken and distributed during the meal, and a cup partaken of by all present after it. This bread and this cup were distinguished from the meal itself by the solemn declaration over them of the fact of the institution (1 Corinthians 11:26). The entire feast, however, had a solemnity and sanctity imparted to it by the eucharistic acts which accompanied it; and while this bread and this wine constituted the “Supper of the Lord,” the entire “charity-feast” became consecrated by it as a “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20), the phrase being similar to “Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). To it the brethren came, not as individuals, but as members of the body of Christ. This gathering of the Church was His body now on earth; that sacramental bread and wine, the symbols of His body, which had been on earth, and which had been given for them. To the charity-feast the rich brought of their abundance, the poor of their poverty. But once assembled there everything was common. The party spirit which raged outside soon invaded these sacred scenes. The rich members ceased to discern in that gathering “the Body,” and to discern themselves as “members of that Body.” They regarded themselves as individuals, and the food which they brought as their own. The poor were put to shame; some of them arriving late would remain hungry, while the rich had eaten and drunk to excess. On those who acted thus there fell naturally God’s judgments of sickness and of death. To correct this terrible evil and grave scandal, St. Paul recalls to them the solemnity of the act of Holy Communion, what it meant, how it was instituted. He reminds them of how the whole feast was consecrated by having that eucharistic bread and wine united with it, and he commands those who wanted merely to satisfy their natural hunger to do so at home before coming to the “Lord’s Supper.” The two thoughts of communion with Christ and communion with one another, and of the bread and wine being the medium of the union with Him, and the source of the Christian unity, intersect and interlace each other, like the fine threads of some tapestry which are so skilfully interwoven that you cannot distinguish them while you look on the image or scene which they definitely produce. We may with theological subtlety dissever them; but if we do so we shall lose that loving image of the Holy Communion which the Apostle wrought out in his teaching, and on which he and the early Church gazed with tender adoration, and from which they drew the deepest draughts of spiritual life.
When I come.—There is no definite indication of an approaching visit in these words. They are quite general “whenever I come”