1 Corinthians 11 Study Notes
11:3 Paul issued a principle for application in corporate worship—the principle of voluntary submission to authority. As Christ is the head over the church, he certainly has supreme authority over every man (cp. 3:23, “you belong to Christ”). The phrase head of every man means “authority over” and fits the letter’s dominant theme of submission to Christ. That the man (husband) is the head of the woman (wife) reflects NT teaching from both Paul (Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19) and Peter (1Pet 3:1-7). God is the head of Christ refers to the Father’s authority over the incarnate Messiah, who as the God-man voluntarily submitted to God.
11:4 The situation in this verse assumes a public setting where corporate worship was taking place. Paul applied the principle (“Christ is the head of every man”) to the praying man. Outward manifestations of piety should not dishonor a believing man’s head (“Christ”). The phrase with something on his head is literally “having down alongside the head.” This refers not to a hat but to the Roman practice of pulling down the toga over the head while bowing for pagan worship, to prevent distractions. Because of the association of this practice with pagan worship, a male believer dishonored his true head (“Christ”) when he covered his physical head with the toga. By imitating pagan practice, he shamed Christ and himself.
11:5a In the first century, a woman would speak with her head uncovered only in private settings. For example, women sometimes led prayer with their “head uncovered” at pagan clubs meeting in private homes. Paul did not give a reason why women in the church at Corinth were uncovered. It may be that they brought into the church religious practices that paralleled habits in the pagan meetings.
|Greek pronunciation||[keh fah LAY]|
|Uses in 1 Corinthians||10|
|Uses in the NT||75|
|Focus passage||1 Corinthians 11:3|
The Greek noun kephalÄ“ means head and usually refers to that part of the body for humans or animals. In the NT, kephalÄ“ is also used figuratively in several passages, especially in Paul’s writings and Revelation.
Paul used the body as a metaphor for the church. In 1Co 12 Paul explained that unity in the church is promoted through mutual dependence and cooperation among the individual members who make up Christ’s body (vv. 12-27). This metaphor is modified in Ephesians and Colossians to emphasize the dependence that the body has on its head, who is Christ (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19). Paul taught the husband’s role as head of the home in two passages. Just as Christ is the head of his church, so the husband is the head of his wife (Eph 5:23). Divine and human headship are joined in Paul’s hierarchy: God is the head of Christ; Christ is the head of man; man is the head of woman (1Co 11:3). A wife’s submission to her husband does not mean that she is inferior to him, for Christ submits to the Father but is also equal with him (see Jn 5:18; 1Co 15:27-28; Php 2:6).
11:5b-6 Paul explains why a Corinthian woman’s uncovered head dishonored her head. A woman who prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered was one and the same with the one having her head shaved. Paul equated the shame of a “head uncovered” (imitating the practice in pagan private religious clubs; see note at v. 5a) with the shame of a person who publicly expressed pagan dedication (i.e., to have her hair cut off or her head shaved). Pagan women at Corinth sometimes sheared their hair and dedicated their locks as a token of worship or fulfillment of a vow to a god. In the Corinthian setting, the “uncovered head” paralleled practices in pagan clubs and thus blurred the divisions between devotion to the true God and false gods, resulting in dishonor to a believing woman’s husband and to Christ.
11:7a A man’s uncovered head honored his head because it permitted the immediacy of his reflection of the image and glory of God, perhaps especially in light of the fact that man was created first (Gn 1:27; 2:7). Therefore, he should not cover his head in imitation of pagan practice, which viewed human creation as an ignoble creation of warring and vain gods.
11:7b-9 Paul’s second reason for saying a woman’s uncovered head dishonored her head is that the first woman was created from man (Gn 2:21-22). Woman completes man in God’s created order in the sense that man mirrors the image of God, and woman reflects the glory of man. This does not mean woman is inferior to man. She completes God’s creation of man as male and female (Gn 1:27), and brings glory to man (Gn 2:23).
11:10 This third reason why a woman’s uncovered head dishonored her head is difficult to interpret. Perhaps the church’s witness to the angelic hosts (Eph 3:10) would be adversely affected by an uncovered female head. The phrase authority on her head seems to refer to an outward symbol that signified to the angels her deference to leadership.
11:11-16 These verses have yielded various interpretations, so interpretive certainty is difficult. Though Paul addresses the man’s headship role in marriage (v. 3), which is rooted in creation (v. 8), he also acknowledges that men and women are not independent of one another. In the beginning, woman was formed from man (see Gn 2:21-23). But through childbirth, man also comes through woman. And all things come from God—including gender distinctions. For a woman in Corinth to pray with her head uncovered was to deny these distinctions. Regardless of the specific local cultural expressions, to deny male/female differences in worship would be improper (v. 13), contrary to nature (v. 14-15), and in opposition to the practices of all the churches (v. 16).
11:17-18 Paul chided the Corinthian believers for their inappropriate, divisive behavior when they came together as a church (cp. v. 20). The word church refers to their assembly as a unified, corporate body. In the NT, “church” never refers to a building or place of meeting.
11:19 The approved . . . among you refers to those who were not the cause of divisions within the body. Their behavior was exemplary during a time of strife.
11:20-22 To the church’s shame, the scene Paul describes seems typical of a pagan setting. Instead of coming together in unity, members were focused on their own selfish desires.
11:23-25 I received from the Lord most likely means Paul was given a special revelation from Jesus about this matter. For other instances where Paul received such revelation, see Ac 18:9ff; 22:18; 23:11; 27:23-25; 2Co 12:7. Christ’s selflessness in giving his life for others stood in stark contrast to the Corinthians’ selfishness during the Lord’s Supper.
11:26 The phrase as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup emphasizes that the solemn remembrance of Christ’s death is a corporate declaration of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2) until he comes again.
11:27 Since the Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, to participate in an unworthy manner is to sin against the body and blood of the Lord.
11:28-29 A person must examine himself with respect to Christ’s sacrifice for believers and the relationship each believer has within the corporate body. The phrase whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body is a solemn wordplay on the word “body.” Believers are to recognize that Jesus selflessly sacrificed his body for others and that this sacrifice was designed to make Christians a selfless corporate body.
11:30-32 If the Corinthian believers judged and examined themselves correctly, this would avert judgment from God within the corporate body. Asleep is a term Paul and other biblical authors use for physical death (cp. 15:18; Jn 11:11; Ac 7:60).
11:33-34 By way of a summary, Paul directed the Corinthians to welcome one another when they assembled to partake of the Lord’s Supper.