Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
There is a pretty unanimous decision among commentators that this verse belongs with the previous chapter. Originally, many Bible books were in scroll form and were not divided into chapters and verses as we have them today. The chapters were actually not divided until 1227, and the verses were not numbered until 1551. 1 Thus, verses do not always correspond properly with subject matter.
Regarding all his previous instruction about idols, idol temples and idol foods, Paul simply says “follow me as I follow Christ.” The Greek word used is mimētai and it is the word from which we get “mimic.” Paul says they should imitate him as he imitates Christ. Today some people want us to follow them wholly, but Paul was wise enough to ask them to follow him only as he followed Christ.
“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (11:2). Paul was about to say some hard and difficult things, but before he does so, he gives the Corinthians a small note of praise. Pett says, “Paul was a wise man. He knew that to constantly belabor men and women without some praise could only lead to bitterness.” 2 The apostle uses the word “traditions” here. The Greek word is paradosis, which means something handed on from one to another. Traditions can be bad as we see in Matthew 15:2-3 or in Mark 7:8.3 They can also be good as we see in this verse.
For a lot of evangelicals, tradition itself is almost a bad word, as we think of abusive and erroneous traditions of the past. We must remember though that there are a lot of good and holy traditions of our faith that we need to pass on to our families and others, things like Bible reading and prayer for instance. In Paul’s day, before there was a written New Testament, many holy apostolic traditions had to be passed on by word of mouth.
APOSTOLIC TEACHING ON AUTHORITY AND HEADSHIP
But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3
This begins one of the most difficult sections in the whole New Testament. As we come to this section, we must be aware that sex, gender and marriage have been radically redefined in the last half-century. This is true in the West and especially in the US. These things have been redefined according to pagan and humanistic values. Many radical writers and speakers have helped bring about this dramatic change.
At the heart of this social revolution was an attempt to overthrow all authority and really to bring about anarchy. Students rebelled against both governmental authority and school authority. City dwellers rebelled against police authority. Workers rebelled against employer authority. There was a widespread rebellion against church and pastoral authority as well.4 In short, there was a rebellion against God, the Bible or most other things connected with Christianity.
This great rebellion has had an immense effect upon the home, the family and particularly upon women in general. It also has had a tremendous effect upon the status of men and husbands. Women began to throw off and despise male authority in the home or anywhere else. Several radicals from the women’s liberation movements took it upon themselves to abolish marriage. Gloria Steinem said it plainly, “We have to abolish and reform the institution of marriage…” Feminist author, Vivian Gornick, tenured professor at the University of Arizona, said, “Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession…” Author, scholar, and university lecturer Germaine Greer said, “If women are to effect a significant amelioration in their condition it seems obvious that they must refuse to marry.” Radical feminist and author Andrea Dworkin even said, “Like prostitution, marriage is an institution that is extremely oppressive and dangerous for women.” 5
In 1972, Helen Reddy released her number one hit, I Am Woman, which sold over a million copies. It was a song celebrating female empowerment and went on to become an enduring anthem of the women’s liberation movement. Reddy bellowed out in the chorus, “…If I have to, I can do anything…I am strong…I am invincible…I am woman.”
All this emphasis upon “liberation” and “empowerment” of women did not fare well in family relationships. No doubt, primarily because of such ideas, there is now a family meltdown in the US. Fatherhood is rapidly disappearing on the American scene. This is sometimes called “the Dad Deficit.” This is not only due to young people refusing to marry, or living together unwed, but to an extremely high rate of divorce for those who do marry. In American courts today divorce and custody battles make up over half of the civil litigation.6
Author David Kupelian says, “Numerous studies show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems than those raised in intact marriages.” He makes plain that “fatherlessness far surpasses both poverty and race as a predictor of social deviance.”7 This family tragedy has hit the African-Americans much harder than whites. By 1995, it was noted that almost 70 percent of African-American children were being born out of wedlock, 8 destined to live in fatherless families and often on welfare in the US. Obviously, the feminist ideas were not working out too well in everyday life.
So today, when we read this verse and those following verses, it all sounds strange indeed. There are probably few young people, even in our churches, who are able to accept what is said in this whole section of Scripture. We have a problem. We must now decide if we will interpret this chapter according to current humanistic values, or according to what the Bible teaches. It is just that simple. If we are intent on interpreting these Scriptures according to current moral trends, we can essentially forget about having a biblical church or living biblical lives.
It is good for us to note that Paul is here primarily addressing propriety in worship. He says that the spiritual head of woman is man. This is like some sort of spiritual chain of command. We see in this Scripture that this is the same kind of submission enjoyed within the Trinity. Jesus is submitted to God. That makes him no less God. Man is submitted to Jesus, and that makes him no less a man. The woman is to be spiritually submitted to man, and that makes her no less a woman. This is the divine order that is timeless and always true. It cannot and must not be changed. Again, Paul is talking about propriety in worship and relationships in the home. He is not talking about the business world for instance.
Let us talk a little more about the matter of submission. This is also an ugly word for many these days. Paul makes it clear that the wife is to submit to the husband and to his spiritual headship (cf. Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). This submission has nothing to do with inferiority, lack of talent or intelligence on the part of the wife. But rather it has to do with mission. There is a spiritual mission to marriage and this mission is involved with bringing glory to God. For this mission to succeed there must be “submission.” 9
Perhaps we should say that there is a prescribed order of things in all the world. God made it that way. When we see a flock of geese or ducks there is always a leader. The same is true when we see a school of fish. There is one person who is leader of a country; one general who is leader of an army; one pastor who is leader of a church and one person who is leader of a family. In the case of the family, that person is to be the husband.
It is also good for us to understand that two things are seemingly dealt with together in these verses. He is dealing with things like hair styles and clothing styles that change with the years and centuries. He is also dealing with timeless principles that do not change. Some things were established with the creation of the world and these cannot change.
So our problem with this section is trying to separate the styles that change from the permanent principles that do not and must not change. This is a tedious task and has given Bible interpreters many headaches through the centuries.
Before we leave verse three, we need to look at the word “head” (kephalē). Bruce thinks it has to do with the source, and thus woman’s existence depends upon man, since she was taken out of man.10 Others feel the verse means that man is the ruler and thus has authority over the woman.11 This latter interpretation seems to be the best, however, there is truth in both positions.
Coffman remarks: “In the current era, there are those who would set aside the apostolic authority regarding the question of the subordination of the wife to her husband; but the wisdom of the ages and also the word of God concur in teaching the necessity that every organism must have a head; and there cannot be any denial that in God’s basic unit of all civilization and all progress, which is the family, the head must be either the man or the woman; and God here commanded man to fulfill that function of being the head of the family.” 12
Smith notes that it is not husband and wife that are so much the focus of this verse, but rather it is used generically as it applies to men and women in general.13 Wiersbe adds: “It is God’s plan that in the home and in the local church, the men should exercise headship under the authority of Jesus Christ.” 14
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (11:4).
Here we have what seems to be a timeless principle. The man is chosen for headship under the Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritual authority is vested in him. Thus he is not to have his head covered. There should nothing that comes between him and Jesus. Someone has said that we should not preach with our hats on. It is strange that after all these centuries when men begin to pray together they usually remove their hats. However, since the time of Christ, Jewish males have traditionally covered their heads, either with the kippa or the tallit. This must not be the case with Christian men.
The Greek for covering is a little vague and it literally means “having something down from his head.” 15 Whatever the “something” is, the Greek does not clearly define. Later in verse 14, Paul will say that it is a disgrace for man to have long hair. This is clearly viewed as a covering for the man. This seems to be a timeless principle that must not change with styles.
So this passage teaches against male head coverings in worship. It has nothing to do with male head coverings in the normal affairs of life. In the blistering hot Middle East, if a man went without a head covering, that person might end up with a fried brain. This passage also teaches that man should not let his hair grow long like a woman. To do so would be to cover himself in worship. Although it is stylish today, the Scripture gives extremely clear teaching here. Quite often, we even see many pictures of Jesus with long female-type hair. We can be certain that this was not the case. Jesus came to fulfill all the law of God.
HEAD COVERINGS FOR WOMEN
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head— it is the same as having her head shaved. 1 Corinthians 11:5
Obviously, this is an extremely controversial passage and commentators have written reams of material on it. The popular commentator Albert Barnes just throws up his hands here and says, “I confess, I do not understand it.” 16 We will try to sort through all these comments and hopefully arrive at some kernel of truth on this subject.
Once more, we should notice that this passage concerns the propriety of worship in the church. On the positive side, Paul here does seem to give his approval for women praying and prophesying in church. However, they should only do so with heads covered (It is clear in Joel 2:28, that daughters would prophesy).17 The Greek expression here is akatakaluptō tēi kephalē, and it means simply having her head uncovered.18 Vincent remarks: “The head-dress of Greek women consisted of nets, hair-bags, or kerchiefs, sometimes covering the whole head. A shawl which enveloped the body was also often thrown over the head, especially at marriages or funerals.” 19
Women in the orient in ancient times were usually veiled in public, or when they were among strangers. Otherwise, they were unveiled.20 We can understand how this was a custom of those times but it is no longer a custom of our times in most places. However, in Moslem lands today women mostly wear some type of face or body covering. In fundamental Moslem areas women are often covered from head to toe with only the eyes showing.
There seemed to be certain problems with uncovered females in Paul’s day. Bruce remarks how the pagan prophetesses in the Graeco-Roman culture often prophesied with their heads uncovered or with disheveled heads.21 For a woman to pray or prophesy in church with uncovered head would seem to be mimicking these priestesses. Having shorn or shaved heads in the Jewish culture was a mark of adultery (Num. 5:11-31). In the Greek culture it could be a mark of being a lesbian or prostitute.22 Barclay, in citing Sir William Ramsay says, “In Oriental lands the veil is the power and honor and dignity of the woman. With the veil on her head she can go anywhere in security and profound respect… But without the veil the woman is a thing of naught, whom anyone may insult… A woman’s authority and dignity vanish along with the all-covering veil that she discards…” 23
Smith comments, saying, “…most interpreters suggest that the wearing of a head covering is not a timeless, universal practice to be observed today in the modern Western church but is an ancient cultural expression that is in need of repression today.” 24 Certainly, the Moslem attempts to totally cover the woman seem ridiculous. To copy such dress would be patently un-Christian. My wife and I can say regarding our long experience in the churches, that every attempt we have seen to mandate a head covering for women has ended up bringing people into deep spiritual bondage. The same has been true with attempts to regulate dress or makeup styles in general. These are obviously passing things and are not timeless principles. Of course we always need to dress modestly.
“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head” (11:6). Keener says, “…the greatest physical shame for a woman was to be shaved or have her hair cut like a man’s.” 25 God, in the Bible, seeks to make sure that the genders are not blurred. Women are not to wear men’s clothing and men are not to wear women’s clothing (Deut. 22:5). In our society today unisex is the politically correct word. Our society tries its best to downgrade sexual differentiation and even change the sexes. Some bathrooms are now being marked as sexually neutral. Our highest court in the US has just ruled that homosexual marriage is lawful.
We are living in a confusing and sexually mixed-up age. It is tragic that children raised by these homosexuals are seven times more likely to become homosexuals or bisexuals themselves than children raised by heterosexuals.26 Women are pushing hard to be like men on the job, in the military and elsewhere. Stedman jokingly remarks, “It has now become a question, not so much of women wearing hats in church, but of whether they are going to wear the pants at home!…”27
For a woman not to be veiled in the ancient culture was a severe breach of modesty. Paul wants to make that fact clear. It was disgraceful for women sporting the new Aphrodite chic haircut, to pray or prophesy in church. Chrysostom says, “A woman does not acquire a man’s dignity by having her head uncovered but rather loses her own.” 28
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 1 Corinthians 11:7
Chrysostom also tells us that men who had spent a great deal of time in philosophy often wore long hair and even covered their heads when they prayed. This was apparently a Greek custom.29 The Lord’s reason for uncovered heads among worshipping men was that man was made in the image and glory of God (Gen. 1:26). Kretzmann adds, “In the case of all other organic creatures, the Lord created them in two sexes at once, but Adam was created alone at the beginning, and it was only afterward that the woman originated, being made out of one of his ribs…” 30
Adam was given authority to rule over all creation (Gen. 1:26, 28). That included woman who was created after man and brought forth from man’s side. Woman was created to be the glory of man and to be his helpmeet (Gen. 2:18-25). We must remember that this was before the fall of humanity. It was to be God’s order throughout time. This authority is fully demonstrated today as the animals, fish and birds all have an innate fear of man.31 It was only when woman rejected man’s authority and stepped out on her own authority, eating fruit from the forbidden tree, that humanity fell into sin.
We see in this verse that woman is the glory of man. Morris says, “…She stands in such a relation to the man as does nothing else…” 32 Barnes says, “All her comeliness, loveliness, and purity are therefore an expression of his honor and dignity, since all that comeliness and loveliness were made of him and for him.” 33
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (11:8-9). Theodoret of Cyr once said: “Man has the first place because of the order of creation.” 34 Pfeiffer and Harrison say of the woman…“She has her origin and purpose of life in the man (cf. Gen 2:21-25). Every woman taking a new name at her marriage ceremony tacitly affirms the Pauline teaching.” 35
I like what Barnes says about the position of the woman:
The woman was made for the comfort and happiness of the man. Not to be a slave, but a help-meet; not to be the minister of his pleasures, but to be his aid and comforter in life; not to be regarded as of inferior nature and rank, but to be his friend, to divide his sorrows, and to multiply and extend his joys; yet still to be in a station subordinate to him. He is to be the head: the ruler; the presider in the family circle; and she was created to aid him in his duties, to comfort him in his afflictions, to partake with him of his pleasures.36
“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (11:10). Now Paul throws us a curve ball. Not only must a woman have authority over her head, but she must do so because of the angels. Perhaps we need to review the subject of angels in their relationship to humans. There is that old account of fallen angels lusting after women, marrying them and having children who were giants (Gen. 6:1-2). It is not felt that Paul is referring to this account here.37
In the New Testament we see several things about the angels. They minister to the saints of God (Heb. 1:14). They are witnesses to our faith and obedience (1 Tim. 5:21; 1 Cor. 4:9). When God’s people gather in worship, angels are also in attendance as we see in the opening verse. Angels long to look into the things of our salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). They no doubt marvel at God’s patience with us and at our great redemption. Angels are learning things from the church (Eph. 3:10-11). The world to come will not be subjected to angels but to redeemed humanity (Heb. 2:5, 16). In the end we will even judge the angels as we saw earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:3.
At this time in history angels are watching, guarding and helping the church. Since they are the uncompromising keepers of God’s order, they are no doubt offended at things which are out of order. If it is customary in a society for women to be veiled in public, the angels will no doubt be offended when this social order is violated.38 If they observe a woman shorn in public they will likewise be offended. Such things should also be an affront to any husbands involved. This makes us shudder a bit as we think of some of the offensive styles and dress that now come before God regularly on Sunday mornings.
So we see that a woman in public or in church should have a sign or symbol of authority on her head. The Greek word is exousia and it has the meaning of power or authority.39 Guthrie says, “…a woman who shocks men will shock angels.” 40 “Yet, there is a positive side of all this. “Paul appears to be saying that there is a new view of women in Christianity. They are not to be regarded as inferior species, as was generally the case in the ancient world. Christ’s new creation makes everything new (2 Cor. 5:17).” 41 They are now given a new power and authority, that is, if they live according to God’s precepts.
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (11:11-12). As Paul often does when he presents a difficult teaching, he proceeds to balance out that teaching. While the woman is not independent of man, the opposite is true. Man is not independent of woman. Poole says, “… since the creation of the first man, all men are by the woman, who conceives them in her womb, suckles them at her breasts, is concerned in their education while children…the man therefore hath no reason to despise and too much to trample upon the woman.” 42 Guzik adds, “Men and women need each other, so there is no place for a ‘lording over’ of the men over the women.” 43
Men cannot order the woman around in the name of the Lord. They cannot be demanding and abusive, but rather they must be loving. When men begin to boss their wives, we can be guaranteed that marital bliss will soon reach its end. My old pastor used to say that authority is like soap. The more you use it, the less you have. Still, the woman should be careful not to usurp the spiritual authority of the men (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
THE PRACTICE OF EARLY CHURCHES
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
1 Corinthians 11:13
Does all this defame women? Does this mean that a woman is not made in the image of God? The Bible says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). The New Testament does not defame women. In the ancient world, women had a very low status as we have mentioned. This was true even in the Jewish world, and is still true in some respects today. Jesus lifted women and children up from their lowly status, giving them respect and position. We must not forget this. Amazingly, the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection was a woman (Jn. 20:11-18). When women reject Scripture and try to establish their own position, they will in the end cause their situation to revert to pre-Christian times. They will end up in virtual serfdom and slavery as before.
Nevertheless, women to really be free must adhere to the Bible and to the eternal patterns set forth in it. God’s rule is that it is not proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. This is a timeless rule. When it is not adhered to, the woman lowers herself.
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering” (11:14-15). We see by this that unisex, although politically correct and popular, is really shameful and demeaning. Pett comments: “Unisex is not pleasing to God. It is God’s pleasure that men and women are clearly distinguished.” 44 A man should not look like a woman. It is disgraceful in heaven’s eyes. Nature teaches us the same thing. Long hair on a man may appear to be a mark of effeminacy.45 It may also be a sign of rebellion. We no doubt remember how Absalom had long hair and he also rebelled against his father, King David. Morris says, “Some of the ancient Greeks had long hair, for example the Spartans and some of the philosophers. But generally speaking men have reflected the distinctions made in nature by using shorter hair-styles than those of women…The precise length is not specified and it is not important.” 46
Long hair on a man is a shame biblically speaking. However, long hair on a woman is her praise and glory. Paul says that her hair is given to her as a covering. The Greek word for covering is peribolaiou. Smith says, “…This term means ‘an article of apparel that covers much of the body, a covering, wrap, cloak, robe’…the women should take a hint from nature or the customary order of things regarding hair length.” 47 Wiersbe adds, “I do not think that Paul meant for all women in every culture to wear a shawl for a head-covering; but he did expect them to use their long hair as a covering and as a symbol of their submission to God’s order.” 48
“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God” (11:16). Once we tread our way through its complexities, Paul’s teaching seems to be plain. Men should not look like women and women should not look like men. The women should have a sign of authority on their head. If they live in a society where veils are required for women, they should certainly wear them. If not, their God-given long hair will serve as a veil, indicating that they are under the authority of the man. This was the practice of the early church. It was apostolic doctrine and was to be obeyed.
Obviously, this apostolic doctrine will sound very strange to our humanistic and permissive world today. It was McGarvey who said, “One who follows Christ will find himself conspicuously different from the world…” 49 That difference may sometimes bring disgrace on earth but it will bring glory in heaven.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 1 Corinthians 11:17
Paul is here giving some very stern correction. To say that their meetings did more harm than good was to mince no words. Undoubtedly, the Corinthians were shocked to hear such a thing form the apostle. Once more, this information must have come to Paul from Chloe’s people (1:11) or from the more recent visitors from Corinth (16:17).50
“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it” (11:18). Paul had already noted these divisions in 1:10-17. Where Christian love warmly flows, the cracks and crevices of divisions between believers are filled and healed. Edwin Markham deals with the matter of division in his little poem “Outwitted:”
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In ! 51
“No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” (11:19). The “differences” mentioned here is the word hairesis in Greek. It has the meaning of taking sides, or holding views of one party or another. Robertson says, “Heresy is theoretical schism, schism practical heresy.” 52 Today we have many heresy hunters in the church, but few of them seem to realize that division itself is heresy. Division is also a fruit of the flesh as we see in Galatians 5:20. Heresy shows up in things like discord, dissensions and factions. Trapp says, “It behooves that there be heresies in the church; as it is necessary there should be poison and venomous creatures in the world, because out of them God will work medicines.” 53
“So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk” (11:20-21). What we have here is a picture of total disorder regarding Communion.
Guzik mentions how ancient culture was extremely class conscious. It was simply expected that the upper classes would receive more and better food than the lower classes.54 We remember that church meetings were held in private homes in these early days.
Keener also fills us in on the culture of New Testament times. He says, “In Greco-Roman society, patrons often seated members of their own high social class in the special triclinium (the best room), while others were served, in plain view of this room, in the atrium…The guests in the larger room, the atrium, were served inferior food and inferior wine, and often complained about the situation. This societal problem spilled over into the church.” 55
Since the earliest times, Christians had eaten meals together (Acts 2:42, 46). After a fellowship meal together (love or agape feast), Communion was celebrated. The early church was an unusual organization or organism. Barclay says it was the only place in the ancient world where all the barriers were down.56 The rich and poor could come together and so could the slaves, freedmen, women and children. They could all eat a common meal together (probably potluck style). However, the Corinthians had allowed this noble custom to become corrupted.
The picture seems to be that the wealthy gathered and ate their special and private food early, while others simply looked on. No doubt the poor had trouble getting to the supper on time and that would certainly have been true of the slaves. Both these groups likely had difficulty bringing enough food to the supper. For them, the agape meal may have been the best meal of the week. Ideally, the wealthy Christians should have brought extra for the poor, but this was not the case at Corinth. Comfort says, “…the rich ate among themselves with their own food, leaving the poor with little or nothing.” 57 Not only did they eat their private meals but they even got drunk on their private wine.
“Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!” (11:22). What a shameful thought— getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. If people were determined to be gluttons and drunkards, they should at least have done these things at home and not in the assembly of God’s holy people.
We can only thank the Lord that the early Gentile church had expert spiritual guidance from Jewish people like Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Mark and others, who knew the significance of the supper and who were able to connect it with the seriousness of the sacrificial system and of the Lord’s own sacrifice for us all on the cross.
IMPORTANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-24
This passage is probably used by ministers in celebrating Communion more than any of the others because of its conciseness. We see here that this was a special revelation to Paul from the risen Christ himself. This was not unusual for Paul, for he received a number of revelations directly (Acts 18:9f.; 22:18; 23:11; 27: 23-25; 2 Cor. 12:7-9; Gal. 1:12; 2:2). In the book of Galatians he claims to have received his revelation of the gospel directly from the Lord and not from the early disciples in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:11-17).58
It is interesting that this passage gives us information that is not found elsewhere in the Bible. Morris says that the instruction to keep on doing the supper is the only record in the New Testament that the communion should be a continuous celebration.59
We see in this passage that the bread is taken first and blessed. At least in the original supper this was unleavened bread. It is of note that in the Passover, out of which the Lord’s Supper emerged (Mt. 26:17-29; Lk. 22:7-20), the wine was blessed first. It is likely that Jesus gave thanks for the bread first because it represented the incarnation.60 Jesus compares the bread to his body, which would soon be broken. This is both a beautiful and meaningful symbol. However, the Roman Catholic Church in time came up with the idea of transubstantiation, the teaching that the bread was actually transformed into the body of Christ and the wine actually became his blood. This teaching has obscured Communion for many under a cloak of superstition and mystery.
In this passage we see Jesus giving thanks for the bread. The Greek word used for giving thanks is eucharisteo and it is from this word that we get the term “Eucharist.” This word of course is a synonym for Holy Communion.61
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (11:25). In the Passover celebration it is obligatory that all participants drink the four cups of wine. It is with the third cup of Passover that Jesus institutes the New Covenant (hē kainē diathēkē). This of course represents the New Covenant as spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The word diathēkē or covenant is often used in normal Greek for “last will and testament.” However, in the Greek Old Testament the word is used often to translate “covenant.” 62 We are to drink this cup in remembrance of Jesus and his shed blood.
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26). The Eucharist is sort of an acted out sermon in which we announce or proclaim (katangello) the Lord’s death until he returns. It is interesting that in the Passover, the program itself is called the haggadah. In Hebrew, this word means “to tell,” 63 and thus it conveys a very similar idea as the Greek. It is a continual retelling of the salvation story.
PREPARATION FOR THE SUPPER
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27
This is a serious supper and we should all be alert to that fact. We should come to the supper in special reverence, remembering that it is the continuing symbol of the New Covenant. None of us is worthy to partake of this symbol and participate in it. Peiffer and Harrison remark, “Unworthily does not refer to the person of the one partaking, but to the manner of his partaking…” 64
“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (11:28). It is also interesting in the Passover that there is much emphasis upon leaven, which represents sin. Before the Passover begins, the father searches the house for the last bit of leaven. He then takes it out of the house and burns it. Paul no doubt has this picture in mind with the eating of only unleavened bread in the celebration. Of course, Jesus was and is the picture of an unleavened life or a life without sin.
The clear teaching of the Passover is that our lives should be like his life – Christ in us. Immediately after Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread begins and lasts for seven days. This is an appropriate picture of the unleavened life. In Israel all leavened items are removed from homes and the leavened aisles are roped off in grocery stores so that those items cannot be purchased. Only matzah or the unleavened bread can be eaten during this week. No leavened bread is available.
“For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (11:29). Of course, just to eat the bread without thinking of Jesus and his body broken for us would be a disgrace. There is a deeper problem when we eat the bread and do not discern the special relationship of other believers who make up the spiritual body of Christ.65 The Corinthians were certainly guilty in this respect.
“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (11:30). This is an interesting verse that presents the shocking idea that people can get sick and even die for abusing the Lord’s things. Morris says, “Spiritual ills may have physical results.” 66 This certainly may help explain why so many in the church are sickly today. Bruce citing Nock remarks, “The fact that an idea is foreign to us does not mean that it was an alien and intrusive element in early Christianity….” 67
The point seems to be that God can chasten us with physical illness and even take the life of a saint who is not careful with holy things. Such occurrences often happened in the Old Testament. This is obviously not an eternal judgment but a temporal judgment. The Greek word koimao (sleep) always refers to the death of believers in the New Testament.68
“But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world” (11:31-32).
Chrysostom says: “This is the reason Paul said, ‘If we judge ourselves, we would not be judged,’ Thus if we judge ourselves for our sins every day here, we shall preclude the severity of the judgment in that other place.” 69
“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.
Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions” (11:33-34). The agape feast and following Communion should be a blessed picture of the unity we all have in Christ. We should lovingly wait on one another, serve one another, share with one another, and not think only of ourselves.