From: A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 7-12 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2011
In spite of all the chaos they had brought upon themselves, Paul candidly recognizes that, in many ways, they had remained loyal to him and uses this as the jumping off point for the criticisms he makes in this chapter. He says this, assuredly, because it was true—or, at least, the truth as most Corinthians would have perceived it to be. (Sometimes it isn’t worth arguing whether the perception is true or not; it may be far better to simply accept the exaggeration and use it as a tool to encourage the real change that is needed.)
Yet his reasoning surely goes beyond this. He had rebuked them for a number of problems—some quite serious and some as much a matter of pride and ego as substance and, as a practical matter in structuring his argument, it was desirable to put front and center the recognition that it wasn’t a totally bleak picture. There were good things to say about them and he wished them to recognize this even as he is about to delve into further problems.
Much of what he says in this chapter is often described as being about gender relationships, though “marital relationships and roles” would actually be more accurate. Just as there is a proper power relationship between God and Jesus, with the former the superior, the same is true between a husband and a wife. Note the terms “husband” and “wife.” Contrary to the widespread misuse of this and similar texts, the New Testament does not teach that “women are ‘subject to’ men” but that “wives are ‘subject to’ their husbands.”
To the extent that the former is true at all, it would be that in Pauline society the vast bulk of women were married and one might fall into that broader rhetoric even though wives were specifically in mind. Cf. verse 9 where he speaks of “man” and “woman” though he clearly has in mind those who are or would be married ones. In short, women were to be subject to one male and one male alone—the one they were married to. No others. The vague idea of “gender inferiority” is clearly not in the apostles’ mind nor should it be in ours as we interpret his meaning.
We like in a society that exalts “equality” and is often horrified at the idea of hierarchy, of being “subject” to others. Yet exactly that is our everyday reality. You work at a job and you are “subject” to the orders of your boss, who can run the gauntlet: from fair minded to cynical to self-absorbed; that boss may make your job easier or harder; that boss can get you fired.
[Page 154] For the record, in my last 31 years of secular work before retirement, 90% of the time my bosses were female. My next to last one was so good I suspect to read of her climbing the corporate totem pole—high and I do mean high. With her array of talents and common sense in dealing with people and problems, she’s the kind of manager/executive anyone in their right mind wants. Yet she—a female--was still my superior and I—a male--was her subordinate.
“Subordination” is a matter of power and authority and being given the right to exercise them—not of gender. Hence the recognition of a “subject” to “superior” relationship in a marriage is quite parallel to what every person is involved with in working life. We rightly condemn the abuse of that superiority, but do any of us really think business life could survive without it?
The same is true of a family: a chain of authority is essential to its success. And if the person who is supposed to be “in charge” isn’t as responsible and dedicated to making the situation work as the person “subject to that authority,” then the situation is going to spin out of control. In a corporate relationship it may be only to the cost of the “inferior (in authority),” though few of us are unacquainted with cases where it ultimately gutted the unwise and self-centered order giver too. The same is even more true in marriage—where if both parties are not working toward shared goals and aspirations the relationship is going to weaken and even disintegrate.
In the marital relationship, how one acts reflects either an embracing of the proposition of marital “subordination” or a rejection of it. Paul does not deal with how, even in the Roman world, that this relationship might vary in its visible expression—either dramatically or in minor ways. (Human beings being human beings, it invariably does: what is important to one is not to another, etc.) At least in Corinth one easily detectable method of determining whether one accepted traditional gender marital roles lay in whether a wife prayed or taught (“prophecies,” ATP) with a covered head and her husband with an uncovered one. Those harmless distinctions were to be embraced rather than brazenly rejected as if one were at war with one’s spouse and the very society one lived in.
Knowing that male arrogance has never exactly been an unknown problem in relationships, Paul hastens to burst the maleocentric ego by reminding the reader that both male and female are necessary for the working out of God’s will and even the survival of the human race.
His teaching, he notes, is simply embracing the general cultural consensus in regard to “nature” (i.e., the “natural” way of doing things): for example, women should have “long hair” and males “short hair.” In the “real world” such lengths could only be defined in comparison with each other. The two words themselves are comparative ones and there is no way one can possibly define the two in absolute terms by how many inches long the hair is. In other words, when looking at a husband and wife, the former was supposed to have shorter hair compared with his spouse.
The cultural standard was not evil, depraved or encouraged the ill treatment of others. Therefore Paul embraced it. (If the general pattern of church members was to ignore such standards, would they not have been viewed as social anarchists?)
In using such “hair language,” it can hardly be overstressed that Paul is defending his teaching that women should pray and teach with a “covered” head and a man with an “uncovered” one. The introduction of hair length into the picture makes no sense unless [Page 155] a female “covered” head was being equated with one “covered” with “long hair” and the male’s “uncovered” head being a euphemism for a head “uncovered” with the kind of long hair the woman had.
In shifting from matters of covered versus uncovered heads and the apparently synonymous issue of long versus short hair he contrasts the problem about to be examined with the matter he had just covered: “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (Revised Standard Version, verse 17). Such contrastive language is common: Bible in Basic English, God’s Word, Holman, International Standard Version, Rotherham, and Weymouth). Others, in particular the New King James Version (“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you”) and the New American Standard Bible (“But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you”), they hedge the wording as to whether the entire context (past and coming) is under consideration or only the latter.
In our judgment, the latter is the case and it implies something very significant: the apostle did not regard the problems of covered versus uncovered heads and long hair versus short hair as major difficulties when compared with what was to be discussed next. Yes, they were problems and needed to be dealt with, but there was such widespread understanding of the rightness of his teaching on the matter that, comparatively, this was only a trivial matter that needed to be straightened out.
Since Paul had stressed at the beginning of the chapter how they embraced his teaching on so many matters, this was an excellent problem to introduce in that context: it showed a specific attitude or practice where dissent was minor and acceptance of his principles widespread. It was a way of saying, in effect, “you do have a lot of things right and here is a specific case where only a few have it wrong.”
One other point: “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (Revised Standard Version). He is shifting to a new topic—what is happening inside the church assembly; hence, the covering/uncovering he has previously discussed was being done outside the church meeting. He is not discussing attire unique to a church setting (as the text is typically used) but attire that is proper and necessary to wear in ALL societal settings in and out of church. Hence if he is actually talking about wearing an “artificial head covering” (i.e., roughly equivalent to a “hat” or “veil” rather than long hair) then he is talking about what they should be doing in all circumstances and not just in a religious one.
Dealing with the Lord’s Supper he is discussing the heart of the worship service. Yet this unifying moment had become an embodiment of their very divisiveness. Indeed, the situation had so far degenerated that it wasn’t necessarily even their cliques eating a common meal together to the exclusion of those who were not members of the group. It had disintegrated so far that even individuals/specific families brought their own meal and proceeded to eat and drink at any time they preferred, regardless of whether others had arrived and regardless of whether there were those who were without anything at all. Paul found nothing wrong with them having feasts but it had to be in their own private homes (11:22) because that was where such things belonged rather than in the joint assembly where it could humiliate the poor.
Paul’s teaching on the solemnity and separateness of the Lord’s Supper from normal meals could not be dismissed because he had gained his teaching directly from [Page 156] the Lord Himself. Every time they partook it was to remember the Lord’s death—what He went through, why, and what it accomplished—and to serve as a kind of living memorial until the Lord Himself came again.
Because of its unique status, each believer should engage in a self-examination of whether it is being partaken of in a respectful manner and with a mind on its purpose and intent. Because of lack of concern in such matters, a number of the Corinthians had fallen into a kind of spiritual death sleep.
Then he returns to what he had just discussed: have the common courtesy to wait for each other before partaking of the Communion. You don’t need to eat a common meal at all: fill up before you go to the assembly; don’t use the time for joint spiritual uplift to humiliate the poor.
How the Themes Are Developed
Before moving on to matters they may question,
Paul begins by stressing how faithfully
they had previously followed the teachings
he had provided (11:1-11:2)
ATP text: “1Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ. 2Now I praise you because you remember me in all matters and hold firmly to the traditional teachings, precisely as I delivered them to you.”
Development of the argument: Since the 1980s the intellectual and social pacemakers of society have increasingly rejected the propriety of gender distinctions. This has resulted in vehement controversy about the rightness of such in the church’s leadership and worship. In 1950 this would have been regarded in the western world (with a few exceptions) as an absurdity; in 2050 it may well be so again. On the other hand the changes may set down sufficient roots as to permanently alter the scholarly and religious landscape.
No one knows and for our purposes it is an irrelevancy. What we are seeking is a fair and responsible reading of what Paul means and intends regardless of whether it is in conformity with the secularist biases dominant even within much of the “Christian scholarship” world. We have no right to alter the intent of that teaching because changing theological trends make him sound too “chauvinist” to some or too “liberal” to others. Such individuals must make the decision whether their insight and perceptivity [Page 157] is superior to that of the apostle. Stripped of its veneer, that is what holders of the “new biases” clearly believe: They have it right; Paul had it wrong. Yet “biases” are “biases;” because ours are more recent does not automatically prove they are valid. His at least came with the claim that he was being directly divinely guided in what he wrote.
A more forthright earlier generation would have rejected the New Testament, adopted a new religion, or formed one of their own, believing Paul’s biases were best left to him rather than to “redefine” his concepts out of the way or utilizing his language in a blatantly unpauline manner. This would have been regarded as the treatment someone even in the wrong deserved.
Here we are concerned with exegesis of that language; its application to current practices and beliefs is, in general, best left to a different venue. Where we do venture into current practice, our remarks will be based upon applying his teaching in a way that seems most consistent with his words and intents. Dealing in Pauline exegesis, doesn’t that remain the only proper course?
Paul begins his discussion by laying a foundation of respect for himself. He calls on them to imitate him just as he also imitated Christ (11:1). The modern claim that “Paul created the Christian religion” would have seemed laughable to him. Why bother to so carefully follow the precedent of Jesus if he were really going to gut and rebuild it into a distinctly different system? And why would he have thought he could get away with it with so many first generation disciples and apostles still alive?
They are praised for “keep[ing] the traditions” (traditional practices and beliefs = “traditional teachings,” ATP) that he had delivered to them. They had not modified or altered them: they followed them “just as I delivered them to you” (11:2). Hence there was a “continuum of faith:” from Jesus to Paul to the disciples. Same faith, same teachings.
By presenting himself as the reliable and faithful conveyor of these spiritual truths Paul “places himself within the mainstream of church tradition as it existed at that time.” If they had trouble with his teaching it was not because they dissented from something he had originated, but because they disagreed with that body of convictions shared throughout the fellowship of believers.
Furthermore, because he himself was imitating Jesus, there is a strong inference that without following the example of Paul, they were effectively eliminating following the example of Jesus as well: if he really was exhibiting the example of Jesus (in behavior and doctrine) in what he chose to do and teach, then to repudiate his apostolic teaching was to simultaneously repudiate that of Jesus as well. The generality is a simple one: Paul either walked firmly within the boundaries of Jesus’ desires and wishes or he did not. If the former, they could not avoid obeying his apostolic instructions without flying in the face of Jesus’ as well.
We say “the generality is a simple one” because there are places, such as divorce in chapter 7, where there was no teaching of Jesus available on the subject and the apostle candidly gave his own judgment to deal with a situation Jesus had not encountered. This bears witness that Paul made no attempt to “fudge” such questions but readily admitted where the lack of precedent existed.
Just as the right authority relationship was to be
observed with God, so it was also to be maintained
within the marital relationship:
the wife was to publicly pray and prophesy with
a covered head and the husband with
an uncovered one (11:3-11:10)
ATP text: “3But I want you to understand that Christ is the ultimate authority over every man, and the man is the ultimate authority over his spouse, and God is the ultimate authority over Christ. 4Every male who has something on his head while praying or teaching as a prophet dishonors the one having ultimate authority over him. 5Likewise every married woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her authoritative head and that should be considered just as bad as if her head were shaved naked. 6If such a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut short or have her head shaved, let her wear something adequate on her head. 7For a male ought not to have his head covered, since he reflects the image and glory of God; but the woman reflects the glory belonging to the male. 8The reason is that the male was not created from the woman, but the woman from the male. 9Neither was the male created for the benefit of the woman, but the woman for the male. 10Therefore a married woman ought to have something on her head to show that she is under someone’s authority, out of respect for the angels.”
Development of the argument: Apparently alluding to those teachings that they had received and which are mentioned in verses 1-2, he asserts that “the head of (ATP: ultimate authority over) every man is Christ” and “the head of (ATP: ultimate authority over) woman is man.” But they are both subject to Deity (11:3).
Who is the “woman” he has in mind? Is he asserting that the female gender is subject to the male gender? Paul is living in a society in which virtually every man and woman of reasonable maturity is married. In short, he primarily has in mind the relationship of the married woman to the married man--a theme the apostle develops at length in Ephesians and Colossians.
Furthermore, Paul is quite emphatic in that latter context that a married woman is subject not to males in general but only to one male in particular, her husband: “your own husbands” is the expression used in both Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. And even that is tempered by a recognition that this gives no right to the husband to treat her different from the way he himself would wish to be treated (Ephesians 5:28-33; cf. Colossians 3:19).
A similar phenomena seems present in Corinthians as well. In 14:34-35 we read, “Let your women keep silent in the churches . . . . And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in
[Page 159] church.” The “women,” then, are married women. (Note also “their own husbands;” it is one specific male who had responsibility toward her and her toward them; definitely not “all women” toward “all men.”) Indeed, if we are to take the “veiling” to be literally such, then there is yet further evidence that married women are under discussion: to the extent that veiling occurred, it was a phenomena that was enjoined exclusively upon married females rather than the unmarried. Hence our rendering of “woman” in the ATP of 11:3 as “spouse.”
How then does he develop his argument about the proper decorum of married women? He insists that the male must pray with uncovered head or else he “dishonors his head” (11:4). The opposite is true of the woman who, if she dares pray with uncovered head, “dishonors her head” (11:5). If she thinks that little of herself, then she might as well have her hair all shaved off (11:5-6). It is common to hear it claimed that this would place them on the same level with prostitutes, who shaved their heads. As punishment for being caught in some infraction of the law, perhaps, but since longish hair was considered most becoming to a woman, it would seem strange for prostitutes to voluntarily undercut their appeal by such an extreme action. Or for public officials to normally require it since prostitution was so common. A social stigma loses its power the more people who bear it.
Paul roots the need for longish hair on a woman in the fact that man is a direct reflection of God’s glory while woman is a reflection of the man’s (11:7). But lest any males get puffed up, Paul immediately points out that just as woman would not have been created if it had not been for the male, males would cease to exist if it were not for females: they produce the new generation (11:8, 12). Yet since woman was created for the male (11:9) there should be some “symbol of authority” on her head (11:10; ATP: “something on her head to show that she is under someone’s authority”).
In some sense, this seems fairly interpreted as a “protective” symbol: it warns the human observer that, to use the modern expression, “she is not available,” for any purpose fair or foul. From her standpoint, a protection against harassment; from the husband’s standpoint, a warning that she is already attached to someone else and is not to be bothered. A wedding ring or band often functions in a somewhat parallel manner in American society.
Lest this be read as some kind of endorsement
for male arrogance, the readers were reminded
that each gender was ultimately dependent
upon the other (11:11-12)
[Page 160] ATP text: “11Nevertheless, in the Lord the woman is not independent of the male nor is the male independent of the woman. 12For as the woman came into existence from the male, so also the male has his birth through the woman, but all things came originally from God.”
Development of the argument: Having stressed the importance of married women reigning in their behavior lest it reflect rebellion against their proper form of religious devotion, Paul again immediately reigns in his rhetoric lest it be abused and reminds his reader that “neither” male nor female is truly “independent” of the other “in the Lord” (11:11). Although the man is born of the woman, the prototype woman of Genesis came from the side of the first man. And lest either side get too conceited, they both owe their ultimate origin to God.
Jewish tradition embraced this reasoning as well. For example, “In the past Adam was created from dust and Eve was created from Adam; but henceforth it shall be ‘in our image, after our likeness’ [Genesis 1:26]; neither man without woman nor woman without man, and neither without the Sheikinah.”
“The battle of the sexes” is as old as the human species, with one side or the other—often both—so full of their “rights” that they forget that, in the final analysis, both need each other. Not only for the perpetuation of the human species, not only for there to be a “next generation” of our own lineage, but to bring the maximum goodness and potential out of each other. In short, we re-orientate from the egotistical “me” and make room for the needs of both. We may practice “the golden rule” to others, but if we don’t begin with its practice in the family environment do we really believe in it at all?
This teaching was in full conformity with their
contemporary understanding of human “nature:”
a woman was to have long hair and
a male short hair (11:13-11:16)
ATP text: “13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God publicly without a covering on her head? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a male has long hair, it is degrading to him? 15In contrast, if a woman has long hair, it is a thing of pride to her: For her hair is given to her to be a covering. 16If any one is inclined to be contentious, we recognize no other practice nor have any of the local assemblies of God.”
Development of the argument: Paul challenges the Corinthians to make their own judgment: It is really proper for “a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered” (11:13)? To him the answer is obvious.
Some have thought that the answer Paul expected from the Corinthians was a negative one, i.e., they were going to deny that “nature” taught any such thing. Hence Paul promptly proceeds to the blanket statement that all the churches follow this custom (11:16). Although Paul’s transition to universal practice certainly dealt with any who might reject his conclusion, Paul’s approach seems to presuppose that they would concur [Page 161] in his judgment on the subject. They might not be implementing the principle as consistency would require, but the theoretical foundation was already acknowledged. In this context, the “universal practice” of other congregations merely added power to his argument rather than being a rebuke for a local denial of the underlying assumptions.
Gillian Beattie rightly stresses that Paul is convinced that he had presented a compelling case as well as undermines the scenario of Corinthian dissent on the matter,
Paul now turns to the Corinthians and challenges them in a direct address to “judge for yourselves.” It is testimony to Paul’s communicative skills that in a passage where he is working so hard to enforce his own will upon the Corinthians, the first imperative verb they encounter is one telling them to make up their own minds on the matter. This is hardly the act of a man who is unsure that his argument so far has been successful.
It may indeed have been the case that the Corinthians were accustomed to seeing women praying with their heads covered, but Paul does not rely on that. His challenge is best paraphrased thus: “In the light of all I have said, does it seem proper to you that a woman should pray to God with her head uncovered?” Paul is confident that he has made his case effectively.
In other words, he was not fighting against the inclinations of the local Greeks but making an argument that they would find quite reasonable, natural, and appealing. We live in a different age where the customs have shifted—for females shorter hair (but not the ultra short/Marine recruit style not uncommon today) seems to have come into popularity in the 1910s and 1920s, became longer and/or “puffier”—making there to at least seem to be more of it—in the 1930s and 1940s, and returned to relatively short in the 1950s. The general rule throughout the years, though, was that the volume of hair at least appeared larger and longer than what the male gender grew. For males, extremely long hair came to the front in the late 1960s as part of the “anti-war” movement. First century culture doubtless also had its passing fashions but the generality of male = short(er) hair and female = long(er) hair was so dominant that Paul felt he could launch a major argument that would go unchallenged. And, as far as we can tell, it wasn’t.
Hence he appeals to “nature” (at least as understood in the culture of his day) and how it also teaches that it is improper for a man to have long hair but right and desirable for a woman to have such (11:13-15). This criteria of short hair for males and long hair for females—not in absolute terms but in comparison with the length the other gender was wearing—had been the pervasive standard for centuries. Frescoes and sculptures of the first and adjoining centuries typically represent males with relatively short hair and women with a much longer head covering. Women’s hair is normally depicted as worn in braids and towering over their heads—a living head covering/veil, so to speak. This custom is specifically documented in regarded to Corinth.
The powerful emotion that clearly lies behind the “extreme” statement of his position argues that Paul may well be making other, unstated, connections in his own mind. Ancient texts had no problem linking male long hair with homosexuality, a subject that Paul felt passionately about (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Hence Paul could [Page 162] easily be viewing male long hair as simply another indication that one has rejected one’s proper gender role and identification.
However this is far from likely Paul’s point in the current passage. As John P. Heil wisely puts it, “Whatever may have been the connection between long hair for males and homosexuality, it should be noted that Paul does not use this as motivation in his argument. He argues that men should have short hair to distinguish them from women, not homosexuals.”
Note how Paul has “shifted” from head covering to long hair. “Proper” hair length is used to teach what is right about the head covering. This points strongly in the direction that earlier Paul has used an euphemism: a person having their head “covered” is the one with long hair and the one who has an “uncovered” head is the one with short or minimal hair. Be that as it may, Paul ends this part of the discussion by stressing that all the other churches follow the same teaching on the matter (11:16; ATP: “recognize no other practice”). Hence it was one that aroused no controversy nor any movement that criticized it. In short, there was a broad-based consensus.
Their local factiousness had even resulted
in the Lord’s Supper being turned into
individual and clique meals (11:17-11:22)
ATP text: “17However in giving the next instructions, I do not praise you, since when you come gather together it does not make you the better but the worse. 18In the first place, when you come together as a congregation, I hear that opposing groups exist among you and part of me believes the report. 19You see, factions are inevitable among you, so that those who have God’s approval may become obvious to all of you. 20When you meet together, it is not really to partake of the Lord's Supper. 21The reason is that everyone goes ahead and eats their own meal separately from the others and the result is that one is hungry and another is drinking to excess. 22Do you not have your own homes in which to eat and drink? Or would you rather show contempt for the assembly of God and humiliate those who are in need? What shall I say to you about this? Shall I commend you? Of course not!”
Development of the argument: Paul’s appeal to “nature” as backing up his teaching (11:14) brings us back to the question of maintaining respect in the surrounding community. If the men and women were doing something that seemed abhorrent to “nature” would this not undermine the credibility of the church in the community? The same is true of the factionalism that had transformed the remembering of Jesus’ death into an adjunct to feasting (11:17-34). Even the untutored outsider would usually recognize the evil of such divisiveness and wonder whether he or she really wanted to be part of such a group.
[Page 163] Paul introduces the theme by noting that their worship assembly had become a force to “worse[n]” rather than improve them (11:17). He was hearing credible reports of division among them in the assembly but he hedges his words with the caution that “in part I believe it” (11:18): a discrete way of saying, “I know its true but I don’t want to humiliate you by rubbing your folly in your face.” After all, the accusations made sense in light of the fact that he realized that divisions were inevitable so that one could distinguish between those truly seeking to serve God and those only claiming to do so (11:19).
Approached a different way, he might simply mean that they were credible because of what he did know for sure, i.e., he personally knew of behavior that would naturally lead to just such excesses unless carefully reined in. Or yet another possibility, some of the people had manifested the kind of thinking that would make them act this way. He might not be sure it was happening yet—and even less sure whether it was pervasive—but it did fit what he knew of too many of them. Hence he felt quite justified in assuming the worst.
So extreme had the common behavior become, that it was not really “the Lord’s Supper” that they were partaking of any longer (11:20). It had gotten lost in the shuffle. What it had become was an adjunct to their feasting or an excuse for it. But not feasting for one and all, but only for the prosperous and well blessed. Every one else went hungry (11:21). Paul responds with indignation to the perpetuators: Don’t they have homes to eat in? Do they despise the church? Do they want to shame those who are poor? (11:22). Whether they intended to or not, the reality was that they were.
We have here a very vivid example of how church divisions can have vicious side effects. Whoever has loyalties to a different faction—or none—doesn’t really count any more. Church cliques are like a feuding family at its worse; determined to get their way at all costs and ignoring all others. You won’t do others overt “harm” exactly; you just “turn your back” or “ignore” them.
How are people supposed to stay Christians if they get treated this way? It doesn’t take a faction to accomplish it either. I know of cases where snobbery drove out of the church a minor as soon as she got old enough to be an adult. If this was Christianity, she wanted no part of it! Doubtless the reader is acquainted with similar cases. Apply that knowledge to the Corinthian situation: can you imagine how put down those who were “without” must have felt? Yet it speaks highly of their faith that they were able to resist the temptation to leave it all behind.
One ultimately “goes to church” not because of the people who are there but because of the Lord who is worshipped there. But does the Lord take kindly when even going becomes a “test of faith” due to the unthinking behavior of others?
Paul had not originated his teaching
about the communion but
it had derived from the Lord (11:23-11:26)
[Page 164] ATP text: “23I received from the Lord the teaching that I also delivered to you: That the Lord Jesus took bread on the night when he was betrayed, 24and when he had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body which is for you. Eat this to remember Me." 25In the same way He also took the cup after supper, and said, "This cup is the new covenant which My blood makes possible. Every time you drink it, do it remembering Me." 26This means that every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you tell about the Lord's death until He returns.”
Development of the argument: According to Paul, the source of His teaching concerning the Lord’s Supper was first hand: he had “received [it] from the Lord.” It wasn’t even from the apostles; it was from the One who created the remembrance. Implicit is the message: you may disagree with me on a number of points, but my source of information on this issue is impeccable by anyone’s standards.
Furthermore he was recycling that which he had already “delivered to you” in the past (11:23). The teaching was one that they should already have a well grounded knowledge of. The fact that he is going to give it again may be intended to carry an undertone of quiet rebuke that there should be a need to.
The participation of the Communion was clearly a time-limited phenomena. Both the bread was to be taken “in remembrance of Me” (11:24) as well as the fruit of the vine “in remembrance of Me” (11:25). Then comes the time-limit on participation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (11:26). “Till” indicates a definite duration—a period being ended and brought to an end--and the inherent logic is obvious: once Jesus returned they would not need to “remember;” it would be a matter of regularly “seeing” Him. Although the Apocalypse waxes eloquent on heavenly worship one thing it conspicuously does not refer to and that is the regular memorial Christians partake of while in the flesh.
It was not to be an empty rite; something one “does” without concern or thought. One was to take advantage of the opportunity to “remember” Jesus. Upfront would obviously be the sacrifice He had made on their behalf (11:24-25) In itself that would set in perspective whatever lesser hassles they had to endure, when compared to the One who ultimately gave His very life for them. But they might also need to “remember” other aspects of His teaching that they were inclined to “forget” during the annoyances of life—how to treat ones spiritual kin, how to treat the unlearned who set out to annoy us, how to give the right word of encouragement when it is needed. But all those ultimately led back to the cross itself.
It wasn’t something they were to do sporadically, as if it little mattered. It was to be a regular observance until He finally returned (11:26). The practice was a linkage between the Christ of faith that they remembered with the Christ of history that the first generation of Palestinian believers had observed, known, and followed. Furthermore, it was a linkage as well between all of the following generations with those that had come before. A chain of unbroken faith that would span the centuries.
A person stood self-condemned by the behavior
of using clique allegiance or any other excuse
to turn this observance into an instrument of
division and away from its original pattern of
being a unifying force to believers (11:27-11:32)
ATP text: “27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28That is why everyone must first self-examine themselves and only then eat the bread and drink the cup. 29When you eat and drink, you eat and drink condemnation on yourself if you are not consciously remembering the Lord’s body. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill and a number have even completely fallen asleep. 31If we judged ourselves correctly, we would not be condemned. 32But when we are judged in the wrong by the Lord, we are punished so that we may not be condemned along with the rest of the world.”
Development of the argument: The proper attitude for partaking grows out of the importance of the Supper: one must partake of it in a respectful manner rather than an “unworthy” one (11:27). While partaking, the participant is to “examine (ATP: self-examine) himself” (11:28), for partaking in any other manner brings Divine judgment upon the participant (11:29). This does not refer to some future day of reckoning; rather in their very act of misusing the Communion they were bringing in a condemnatory judgment on themselves. This lack of respect had been common in Corinth and caused many to be spiritually “weak and sick among you.” Some were even spiritually dead (11:30).
Some have suggested that there is an implicit invocation of the Old Testament concept of a “cup of Divine wrath” on God’s disobedient people. Certainly one had been “poured” on them in consequence of their behavior.
If we were permitted to judge ourselves, no one would be condemned for their failures (11:31). But judgment by Christ is inevitable, not merely at some distant point in the future but here and now (11:31). He knows what we are doing and “chasten[s] (ATP: punish[es])” us so we will improve and escape the fate of the rest of the world (11:31). In other words adversities can be learning experiences—but it requires the willingness to learn. The old adage about “you can lead a donkey to water but you can’t make it drink,” has its all too obvious human parallel. We are given the spur to go “set our houses in order,” but it remains up to us, individually, whether we do it.
Two methods of avoiding such abuses:
wait for everyone to arrive and reserve
your feasting for home pleasure (11:33-11:34)
[Page 166] ATP text: “33So then, my spiritual comrades, when you come together to partake of this observance, wait for every one to arrive. 34If anyone is hungry, eat at home first, lest you come together for condemnation. As for the other matters, I will provide instructions when I come.”
Development of the argument: The Corinthians were in need of this admonition: it was important that they wait until every one expected had arrived before partaking (11:33). Not wait for the leaders, but wait for the members in general—whether “important” or not. It was a very practical means to show courtesy and respect for those society ranked low on the social totem pole. These would be people like “slaves and common laborers, foundry workers and tired dock hands” whose work obligations delayed them beyond more well off members.
In short they were to be interested in all of their members and show courtesy to every one. Since it reflects positive attitudes and behavior to wait for each other in this manner (11:33), some have suggested that the practical “freight” carried by the words are far more than their literal meaning: they are to “welcome one another, show gracious hospitality to one another,” and throughout the service overlook their differences in social rank and prestige.
Furthermore, if they enjoyed their banqueting so much, fine and good! But “let them eat at home” rather than allowing the centrality of the communion to be weakened (11:34). There are places to have a good time socially and there are places to worship God—but not both at the same time.
Some have speculated that the early church’s services came in two forms: one service at which the Communion was partaken of (the kind described here) and one in which the word was preached. There seems no appealing reason for making this type of separation, especially if we assume both were done on even a fairly regular basis. Arguing against it is the practicality of assembling a significant number of people from over a geographically large area in an age before easy mass transportation was available. Though today’s world has it available, even those who observe the Supper only periodically normally “add” it to a regular service rather than having one for that purpose alone.
It has also been argued that prior to Paul, the Communion was a routine part of a larger, normal meal. Indeed, it may well have been divided into two major segments, with the thanking for the bread at the beginning and the offering of the cup, and accompanying thanks, at the end. If so, one wonders why Paul would have had the audacity to demand the two be joined together. The line of attack on him would have been obvious: “every place we’ve ever heard of does it this way!”
Georg Strecker insists that the implicit order to eat in their own homes (11:22) isn’t intended to limit the assembly simply to the communion part of what they were doing, “This does not mean a separation of the fellowship meal from the sacral meal but bringing them into the right relationship. Fellowship meal and eucharist are united in a celebration that is organized with a concern for brotherly agape.” This is to be done by getting rid of the drunkenness and excess.
To make such a line of reasoning clear, Paul would have to restructure his own rebuke on the local behavior. Something along this line would surely have been required: [Page 167] “No one else has this problem. Purge out the excess like everyone else does and partake with the seriousness found everywhere else!”
But he conspicuously does not tell them to modify the fellowship meal. Instead he demands, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (11:22). The challenge is not to fix the common meal but to move it back to where it belonged, in their homes. Indeed the last verse of the chapter makes it even more emphatic, “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment” (11:34). Where they met is contrasted with where they were to eat. The command is to “eat at home,” not “ ‘eat at church’ but with these following restrictions etc. etc.’ ”
(Yes, if it were a house church the family would be eating at the same place but, if the admonition of these verses were followed, not at the same time the church was there. In modern usage the difference might be described as “keeping the private and the sacred space separate” even when they involve the use, at different times, of the same physical location.)
An aside here is perhaps appropriate before moving on. It is often said that the Supper was instituted during a meal. Not quite true. It was instituted during a ritual meal, the once a year Passover celebration of Israel’s redemption by God from Egypt. Yes, it was a “meal” but not your normal, regular meal. It was a Divinely ordained sacred, commemorative meal.
Therefore one would not have anticipated early Christians perpetuating the observance of the Communion as part of a regular meal—it would have required a sacred meal first. Its setting had been unique and they had no substitute for it in everyday life.
Invoking of Explicit Old Testament
Quotations to Justify His Teaching:
How Old Testament Concepts Are
Repeatedly Introduced and Woven
into the Heart of His Argument
11:4: The propriety of women “prophesying (ATP: teaching as a prophet).” Although males played the dominant role as prophet in the Old Testament, we read various references to women periodically being granted the gift as well. As early as the triumph over the Egyptian army at the crossing of the “Red” Sea we find Miriam (sister of Aaron, the chief priest) described as a “prophetess” (Exodus 15:20).
In the next verse she declares before the people (and to fellow women in particular), “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (verse 21). When we read this immediately after the assertion that she possessed the prophetic ability, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is intended to be considered as an example of the prophetic ability being exercised.
The gift could encompass related responsibilities that gave her direct authority over the males of the community. Hence we read of how Deborah was both a “prophetess” and “was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:5). “The children of Israel came up to her for judgment” and there is not the slightest hint that the males shunned submitting their cases to her (4:5). As prophetess she issued war orders to the man who commanded the Israelite assault against Barak and his forces (4:6-10).
When King Josiah first heard the Torah read, he was shocked at the fact that the nation was living in disobedience to its contents and Divine wrath had come upon them as the result (2 Kings 22:11-13). Hence he sent key advisers to “go, inquire of the Lord” as to what should be done (22:13). So this high power delegation went to “Huldah the prophetess” (22:14) who gave them words of encouragement (22:14-20).
They wanted and needed a person with a prophetic gift. Their instruction was open ended: it did not specify the name of the person or the gender. Yet they knew that this was the one person they could count on to provide a reliable oracle. A woman.
Isaiah calls his wife a “prophetess” (8:3). Whether that is to be taken as literally so, a courtesy title (due to her being married to a prophet), or a fact that her child would have a symbolic role as a statement of prophecy (8:4) is unknown.
In the time of the return from Exile, Nehemiah refers to a reported prophetic ability being used against his mission to recreate the fallen nation in its homeland. Nehemiah refers to how “the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets” attempted to strike fear into his heart (Nehemiah 6:14). It is intriguing that all the males rest in obscurity; it is only the woman’s role that sticks in his mind. Clearly she must have been the dominant personality and the most influential.
The gift could be sporadic, even a one time blessing. Hence we read of the mother of John the Baptist being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41) and speaking a short word of encouragement (1:41-45). The expression seems to be used in a longer term sense of “Anna, a prophetess” who spent all of her free time in the temple even though she was of advanced age (Luke 2:36-38).
In Acts 2, when the apostles are described as preaching their message to the pilgrimage goers in Jerusalem, they openly declared that their ability to speak in the native languages of the listeners “is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (2:16). But [Page 169] this was only a partial fulfillment because the Joel proof text begins with the words, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy” (2:17-18, quoting from Joel 2).
Since that phenomena does not happen at this point, it is not surprising that we run into it later. In the travels of Paul, the recorder draws attention to how the apostle and his fellow travelers stopped in the city of Caesarea and stayed with “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8). “Now this man,” Luke informs us, “had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (21:9). The gift is not attributed to Philip, however, even though he was both male and their father.
11:4-5: Male/female public praying or prophesying with head covered / uncovered. Paul insists that it is improper for the woman to pray or prophesy without her head covered. This is typically interpreted to refer to some type of “artificial” head covering though verses 14-15 more naturally suggest her having “long hair” as the proper meaning. In contrast, he argues that men should not pray “uncovered.” This raises the question of the treatment of hair coverings in the Old Testament.
There are obvious occasions when Paul’s remark about males would not have been considered applicable, even by the apostle (cf. his reference to “the helmet of salvation” when describing spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:17): He was well aware that in times of battle, for example, a soldier obviously covered his head with his helmet for additional protection (Psalms 140:7). Likewise the high priest was instructed to “not uncover his head,” implying that he normally worn a garment over it as part of his ceremonial attire (Leviticus 21:10).
The references to males covering their heads in contexts different from these involve events of severe embarrassment and humiliation--not as part of normal everyday routine. As David fled Jerusalem during the rebellion of Absalom he left with “his head covered and went barefoot” as signs of mourning over the revolt (2 Samuel 15:30). “And all the people who were with him,” the text continues, “covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went” (15:30). Although in a different context “all the people” would naturally include women, in a context of a regal flight of this nature, it was far more likely to be mainly a coterie of his male advisers and close friends.
When word reached David that Absalom was dead we read of how “the king covered his face” (19:4; presumably with the covering he was already wearing over his head--see above) and mourned aloud of his sorrow over the death of his offspring.
David is painted in the scriptures as the prototype honorable monarch. The opposite personality was that of Haman, portrayed in Esther as second in importance to only the Persian king himself. Yet he also is pictured as showing intense grief in the same manner: “But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered” (6:12).
In time of drought such conduct symbolized despair, “Because the ground is parched, for there is no rain the land, the plowmen were ashamed; they covered their heads” (Jeremiah 14:4).
[Page 170] Just as a male covering his head symbolized embarrassment and humiliation (= Paul’s “dishonor”?), a woman shaving her head also carried a similar connotation. Part of the required ritual for marrying a woman captured as battle spoil (Deuteronomy 21:10-11) was to have her “shave her head and trim her nails” (21:12). During the month following she was to “mourn her father and her mother” (for their death or, more likely, having to marry a foreigner and never seeing them again) and only afterwards was the marriage to take place (21:13).
Likewise a woman having to uncover the head in public (i.e., remove whatever she wore over her hair or untie it and let it flow loose; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:5) could be an indication of doubts of her moral propriety. Having a suspected adulteress “uncover” her head was the beginning of a ritual to test the validity of the suspicion (Numbers 5:16-31). The act of uncovering has been taken to mean that “the priest loosed her hair, which in general was a sign of mourning (cf. Leviticus 10:6).” In other words, the priest “undoes her hairknot so that her hair hangs loose” In this type of context a hair covering would seem more likely.
In Isaiah 47:1-3, where Israel is depicted as a woman, removal of such garments are pictured as part of the national humiliation. Grief, embarrassment, or some other power would strip them of their normal covering.
Hence males having their heads covered and women having their heads uncovered (or shaved) occur in contexts where such behavior has a negative and undesirable connotation. Yet there were certainly times when a woman (in certain eras) could appear in public—at least in certain contexts--without a head covering, certainly without a “veil” that was sometimes its accompaniment. We read of Rebekah riding without a veil with Isaac’s servant until they came within eyesight of her future husband. Then she dismounted the camel and “she took a veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:61-66).
11:17-18: Religious worship is not inherently a virtue. Worship consists of two elements: (1) outward forms and (2) inward intent. The human instinct seems to be to seek out one of these and define it as what is essential and ignore or downplay the importance of the other. Paul criticizes the Corinthians on both scores. Their form was wrong (having joined a feast to the Lord’s Supper, 11:22-26) and they also had the wrong attitude toward each other as well (such as one having food to eat and another not having any, 11:20-21).
The Old Testament carefully prescribed the forms of worship but it also criticized those who fell into the trap of regarding such as adequate by itself alone; if they manifested destructive traits of behavior toward others (as the Corinthians were doing during their own worship), it made the rituals themselves unacceptable. In Isaiah 1:11-17, the emphasis is on how their own evil character and unjust treatment of others had caused Yahweh to become appalled of their holy feasts, “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me. I am weary of bearing them” (1:14). And would remain so until they reformed for the better (1:16-17).
in this period was a paradox. Yahweh
concedes to his people that “they seek Me daily, and
delight to know My ways” and obeyed the required “ordinance[s] of [Page 171]
their God” (58:2). They
paid lipservice to justice (58:2) and faithfully fasted (58:3). But neither kept them from taking advantage
of their workers (58:3) and taking pleasure in needless “strife and debate”
(58:3-4). The modern description might
well be, “They have religion on their lips but not in their hearts.”
11:21: The impropriety of exulting in one’s success while others who one personally knows are lacking the makings of even a decent meal. Here Paul has specifically in mind doing so during a religious activity, feasting in the assembly of the church. The danger of letting religious forms blot out one’s social obligations to one’s co-religionists was nothing new. In the days of Isaiah, the leaders of society took pleasure in the long-ordained fasts (58:1-5, see above), but they were cautioned that a true fast also meant willingness “to share your bread with the hungry” (58:6-7). If one were to do that during one’s own period of fasting, how much more so during an occasion of feasting, as the Corinthians had expanded the Lord’s Supper into!
In a similar vein, Yahweh, as recorded by Ezekiel, lists “giv[ing] his bread to the hungry” (18:7) as one of the qualifications for God counting a person as truly “just” and as being one who does “what is lawful and right” (18:5). Deuteronomy 15:11 gives as the reason for assistance the fact that “the poor will never case from the land.” Their number may be fewer (or more screened from public view through inattention or other means) but the class will continue to exist. Hence they need to never forget their needs.
Paul warns (11:22) that self-centered behavior “shame[s] those who have nothing.” In action, though probably without the conscious intent, they were guilty of “mock[ing] the poor.” Proverbs 17:5 warns that such a person “reproaches his Maker.”
Paul clearly would not have approved of shifting the nature of the Communion from a spiritual “rite” to honor Jesus into a mere part of a feast even if the more well-to-do had shared with the poorer. Even so, one would think that having someone literally sitting in the room would have been so conspicuous as embarrass those with even a minimum of civility. (Or did they enjoy a discrete touch of conscious mockery of the poor?)
On the other hand, when the Feast of Tabernacles was first observed after the exile, this idea of mutual assistance was not so obvious that it did not require an explicit mention by Ezra (Nehemiah 8:10-12). Perhaps there is a “natural” tendency to become oblivious to things (and people?) who are not really “important” and who simply form part of the background “scenery” to our existence.
11:27-29: Spiritual self-examination in the Old Testament. The Old Testament admonition for self-examination is set in the broader context of examining one’s entire lifestyle, though the principle would have a natural application to one’s religious lifestyle in particular. Lamentations 3:40-42 urges, “Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord; let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled; You have not pardoned.” Yet. But the implication is that it is still obtainable. Likewise with Paul’s remarks: just because they had observed in an “unworthy manner” did not exclude them from doing things the right way and with the right attitude in the future.
[Page 172] In Haggai, Yahweh’s rebuke includes a demand for candid self-examination. Twice comes the admonition to, “Consider your ways!” (1:5, 7). In this prophet it is a call to rebuild the ruined temple; their ignoring it and only seeking out their self-interest and self-profit had benefited them nothing (1:3-11).
Historical Allusions to the
Old Testament: None
11:2: What are the “traditions (ATP: traditional teachings)” the Corinthians were to maintain? Since they were “keep[ing]” rather than just “believing” these traditions (11:1), it follows that the traditions more likely had something to do with what they were doing rather than the abstract convictions they held. This would indicate he has in mind the teachings related to either their social, moral, or religious behavior--or all three.
Perhaps we place too restrictive an understanding on “keep,” since it could also hold the connotation of hold to, preserve, cherish--in which case the reference would be to teaching of all types. Some of the teaching they had received is identified: Paul states that he had “delivered to” them the teaching He had received about the institution of the communion (11:23). Likewise he describes the teaching about the resurrection in general and that of Jesus in particular as “that word which I preached to you” while working amidst them (15:2; cf. 15:1).
Paul is quite pleased with them on this matter: he “praise[d]” them because they “remember me in all things” and “keep the traditions,” as if we should add the mental gloss “all” there as well (11:2). At least “most.”
How we square his profession that they were obedient to these traditions to his vigorous denunciations on several different themes is perplexing. Yet since it is the same man delivering both sets of assertions, there must have been some explanation in his own mind as to how both could be true. Perhaps the best way to see how he reconciled these rival positions is that there were wide areas where they were conforming to the tradition, [Page 173] but also wide areas where they had misunderstood, misapplied, or otherwise “bent” it, especially under the impact of undue loyalty to factional leaders. They meant well, but they were still falling far short.
The teaching is not one that began with Paul. He describes it as that which he had “delivered” to them: he was the conveyor of preexisting doctrine (11:2). But who did he get it from? Paul’s insistence that his fundamental beliefs were not gained from the earlier apostles (Galatians 1:11-2:20) would argue that he does not have that source in mind. The exclusion of that rootstock and his mention of imitating Christ in the preceding verse (1 Corinthians 11:1), would argue that he had either received it from Christ directly or through revelation of the Spirit.
It is common belief, however, that these traditions were oral ones, delivered via apostles, eyewitnesses, and even later converts. That there were such oral traditions, on this and other matters, is certainly true. In fact, it would be incredible if it were not. On the other hand, the “writing instinct” took hold early on, as Luke 1:1-4 and the prevalent theories of source documents for the canonical gospels provides witness. Hence the “oral” emphasis must be tempered with a healthy recognition that written sources--in some form or other--soon became available as well.
And, as we saw above, in Paul’s case he acts as if he relied for his key information on neither of these. This may have reference, however, to the origin of his beliefs rather than the confirmation they would have received as he found them repeated in the oral and written beliefs of the primitive Christian community.
11:4: Male head covering rejected during prayer: Why the divergence from later synagogue customs? Assuming an artificial head covering is under discussion (but it may well not be, see the discussion of 11:13-15 below), how did church custom come to differ so dramatically from that of the synagogue? Is Paul reacting against synagogue custom? Or did the synagogue later react against church custom?
The available evidence suggests that during the first century, the typical Jewish male would cover his head only in a time of grieving. It would not normally have been done when engaged in normal, everyday prayer. Occasionally it may have been encountered in synagogues of that period, but it seems to have been unusual and unlikely to have begun before several decades after the writing of this epistle. Hence, the custom of requiring the wear wearing of a scarf (tallith) and skullcap (yarmulke) can only be documented beginning at a later date.
In contrast, women worshipers always made sure they were veiled in the first century. This has led some to argue that Paul is enjoining upon the mixed or predominantly Gentile congregation a historically Jewish custom. If so (and if a literal veiling is under discussion), one would probably best interpret this as an effort to maintain the Jewish-Gentile unity within the church against the stresses that could have torn it apart.
In ancient Israel Aaron and his descendants were to wear a “turban” on their heads as they officiated in their priestly duties (Exodus 28:33-38). In Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple, the priests and Levites (Ezekiel 44:15) were to wear “linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat” (44:18). These clothes were to remain within the temple and to be worn only when carrying out their religious duties within it (44:19).
[Page 174] In these cases it was not the people (or males) at large who were instructed to wear such attire, but strictly those officiating. It was, if you will, a mark of their priestly office. Neither males nor the general population were instructed to wear such attire when worshipping God in general or engaged in prayer in particular.
Indeed, the only time that even the priestly-Levite class would seemingly have engaged in prayer with such a covered head would have been when singing the Psalms, which were often a form of vocalized prayers. Indeed, if the ideal temple of Ezekiel can shed any light on the subject, even the priests and Levites were to leave such headdress behind when outside the temple. And it would presumably be outside the temple where a considerable amount of their own prayer life would exist, arguing that even for them there was no one required uniform pattern for head coverings while praying.
Polytheistic religion was no different. Only when a man was leading/presenting a ritual offering was his head covered. This was true whether the individual was acting in a private capacity as the offerer of a sacrifice to his god or in the more formal sense of an acknowledged priest of a deity. Interestingly, surviving depictions show this to be the case for both men and women offering sacrifices to their gods. Equally conspicuously, no one else present--of either gender--is wearing a head covering.
In private individual religious observances, the same pattern of a male covered head was also found. Plutarch argued that males kept their heads uncovered even in the presence of the most powerful rulers lest the rulers be condemned as expecting the same treatment as the deities. As to why the head was covered in the first place, he explained, “But they thus worshipped the gods, either humbling themselves by concealing the head, or rather by pulling the toga over their ears as a precaution lest any ill-omened and baleful sound from without should reach them while they were praying.”
Interestingly, in regard to private prayer, covered heads among both genders were so pervasive among Romans (and those imitating their practices) that Greek authors called attention to it as a distinctive “Roman” practice. This carried the implication of the practice being distinct from that with which they themselves associated with piety.
11:5-6: The tension in regard to women prophesying between chapters 11 and 14: Understanding how Paul could teach here that women could “pray or prophesy” so long as the head was “covered,” while in chapter 14 silence is demanded of women in the church assembly. Whether there is an inconsistency here hinges, in large part, on whether Paul has the church’s meetings under consideration in the current context. Although the assumption is widespread that female praying and prophesying automatically involved the right to do so in the assembly, Peter Richardson’s comments are of special interest here because he explicitly puts the behavior of chapter 11 within the context of congregational worship,
The dispute was probably based upon different attitudes toward the validity of this participation and different arguments about the need to follow the practices of the synagogue. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, Paul acknowledges that women are praying and prophesying in public worship (11:5). He does not suggest that they should cease. Instead, he commends the congregation in 11:2 because it follows the tradition he handed on to them (cf. also 11:23) and thereby [Page 175] may imply that the practice of women praying and prophesying in the community gatherings is something he taught them.
The problem, which should be immediately apparent to anyone who takes the time to read 11:5, is that Paul is only arguing that they were praying and prophesying and makes no remark clearly or explicitly placing those female activities within their religious gatherings. Those who insist that it had such a setting create the problem of reconciling the “permissive” teaching of chapter 11 with the “restrictive” admonitions of chapter 14. If, however, Paul does not have such a setting in mind here, then there is nothing against the scenario that he is conceding the propriety of women’s praying and prophesying outside the assembly while prohibiting such inside.
Since prophesying involved speaking aloud so others could hear it, presumably the praying referred to was of a similar nature. But in what non-congregational format would such occur? In our age we have women of similar spiritual interest meeting together for private study and prayer and one can properly assume that similar motivations would have encouraged first century Christian women to have done the same when practical. What Paul would be doing would be to say that in parallel “private,” non-congregational contexts it was proper and even desirable for women to take a leadership role that was inappropriate when the entire church met together.
The analysis becomes chancier when we interject the possibility of male Christians being present as well: would it have been right for women to speak prophetically and to lead prayer in that context as well? Some would say that Paul is so firmly against women “usurping” the role of males in the church assembly that his logic would have required its application to such private meetings as well. Perhaps so. On the other hand, if the prohibition against female prophesying was not intended to apply outside a formal congregational setting, one must be very cautious in asserting such a conclusion. It would be a possibility, not a certainty.
Be that as it may, this entire analysis hinges upon Paul having in mind a noncongregational setting. One of the strongest arguments in its favor is that however one chooses to define Paul’s “inspiration” it would have been impossible for his readers to have missed the inconsistency and challenged him upon it if both sides did not understand a non-church meeting to be under discussion. The lack of any such challenge being mentioned either in this epistle or in 2 Corinthians reinforces our belief that all readers recognized that he had a different context in mind.
Furthermore Paul comes down hard in the following verses on women having “short” hair and men “long” hair (11:12-16). This could hardly have been only in the assembly. If it was “short” (or long) in one place, it was in the assembly as well. Hence he is dealing with a behavior that would be found throughout normal life and only because of that also found in the church meeting. This may well be the reason that he discusses the propriety and rightness of female prayer and prophesying before its limitations: throughout normal life it was proper; it was only within the confines of the church’s meeting that it crossed the line into something undesirable.
The strongest argument in favor of a congregational setting is that beginning in verse 17, Paul does begin to discuss church worship. In particular he has in mind the abuse of the Lord’s Supper and the merger of it into a fellowship meal for the membership. Yet he labels as the “first” of their problems their divisions (11:18),
[Page 176] especially as expressed in regard to the Lord’s Supper (11:20). Yet the actual wording of 11:18 is, “For first of all, when you come together as a church” certainly doesn’t sound like he is continuing a church meeting discussion but introducing it. “First of all” concerning congregation meetings we must consider this problem of the communion. If he had already been considering such conclaves, then this would have been the “second” or later issue to be discussed concerning it.
Furthermore “when you come together as a church” argues that not all of their “coming together” was as a church; there were meetings not considered church meetings. In turn, that would carry the implication that church meeting rules would not (necessarily) apply in such a different social context.
11:10: Women are to have “a symbol of authority” on their heads “because of the angels”. In what sense is it a “symbol” and how do the “angels” become involved in the matter? There are two separate, but closely related, issues that deserve consideration in this verse. The first is what is meant by “a symbol of authority” and the second concerns the angelic rationale behind the teaching. There are three basic approaches to the “symbol” interpretation:
(1) It represents submission to the authority of the male, i.e., to the male under discussion, her husband.
(2) A woman wears the veil to symbolize her “honor and dignity”—her right to be respected. The failure to wear it demonstrates her willingness to forfeit that societal respect.
(3) The veil symbolizes not her submission to another but her embracal of that level of authority that is rightly hers and none should take from her.
If one takes, the first approach (and it is the most common one) the introductory words “for this reason” link it with the husband’s “supremacy” discussed in the preceding text and this seems the most likely Pauline intent. If so, then the linkage to angels would lie in the fact that she is being as submissive in her marital relationship as angels are in their relationship to God. Going beyond that parallelism, the phrase “because of the angels” has stirred endless curiosity and speculation as to what else it may mean.
The text could apply to either “good” angels or “bad” ones, with the latter providing the more dramatic interpretations of the text. If the latter is in mind, then the “veil” could be intended as somehow being “protection” against them. Interpreting Genesis 6 and its reference to “sons of God” as angels who sexually intermingled with the daughters of earth, Paul’s admonition has been taken by some as a warning against arousing these beings to excessive sexual desire by being unveiled.
The ancient Book of Enoch (6:1-3) certainly embraced a parallel gloss on Genesis, “And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and begat us children.’ ” Even in this “Enochian” version it is still marriage and not mere bed mates that are sought. It seems assumed that they are capable and willing of either expressing or reining in their desire or there would have been no need to “marry” rather than immediately “take” the person of their interest; where then the danger to human females from their interest?
[Page 177] There is no text that I can think of in the New Testament suggesting the danger of angelic rape or carnal seduction by them. Furthermore, Paul provides no indication that he is thinking in terms of “fallen” angels (rather than righteous ones) and without that gloss there would be no way of linking the text with Genesis 6. Even so this interpretation is documented as far back as the writings of Tertullian and still is preferred by many commentators, which, I suspect, tells us more about the popular scholarly evaluation of early Christians as credulous and superstitious than it provides any real insight into Paul’s motives and intents.
The New Testament does recognize, however, the idea of the need for angels to recognize their “place” in the Divine scheme and of being punished for forgetting or rebelling against it (Jude, verse 6). Hence, the example of the angels would be a warning to women believers not to rewrite their proper role in the church; “because of the angels” would then carry with it the warning that these mortal women could no more escape Divine wrath than did angelic, supernatural beings.
Furthermore at least some angel beings are pictured as being “covered” when the Lord “sit on a throne” in the heavenly “temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Above the throne “stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (6:2). Hence a partial “covering” of the woman would be “because of the angels” because they--at least some of them—do the same thing. It would be an imitation of the restraint that even angels manifested.
Some explain the verse as an indicating that angels were considered present during the worship and that they expected and required such restraint. Certainly, the Essenes considered angels as present during their worship services, indicating that the concept existed in the first century. Their documents speak of how anyone “with a bodily defect, injured in feet or hands, or who is lame, blind, deaf or dumb, or who has a visible blemish in his flesh [must stay out, RW] . . . . for holy angels are in their congregation.” Paul never expresses an interest in keeping the physically imperfect out of the assembly nor even the morally imperfect, excepting only the extreme cases in the latter group (such as the man living with his father’s wife).
The Apocalypse (1:20) speaks in terms of “the angels of the seven churches” and the mini epistles in chapters two and three are each addressed to “the angel of” a particular church (2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14). Assuming “angels” in the strict sense are under consideration (and alternative explanations are common), this would indicate that each had a special interest and concern over a specific congregation, but the nature and form of their duties is not developed. Their “attention” if not “presence at” the worship services would be a natural application of the concept.
Psalms 138:1, however, seems to be edging up to this idea of an angelic presence during worship. There the Psalmist declares, “I will praise You with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing praises to You.” The Hebrew term is, literally, that of this English translation, i.e., “gods.” The LXX opts for “angels” as the rendering, as does the Latin Vulgate. The Syriac chooses “kings.” The Targum (part translation, part paraphrase-interpretation) renders the word with the equivalent of the English “judges” or “rulers.” Later Jewish tradition took these “gods” to be equivalent to angelic-type beings.
In spite of the usage of such versions and traditions, a goodly number of commentators prefer to interpret the term in its strict sense as “gods,” i.e., in the sense of [Page 178] idols. Taken this way, the text means that even in the presence of idols, the Psalmist refused to be psychologically intimidated and remained a faithful worshipper of Yahweh of Israel. Some interpret the assumed context to be an Israelite in a foreign land where polytheism represents the religious establishment and the danger of spiritual inferiority feelings would be the greatest.
Earlier we argued that the first half of the chapter is specifically discussing life outside the church assembly. However one reacts to the previous possibilities concerning angelic observation or “presence” at Christian worship, it is desirable to seek out an interpretation that puts the primary emphasis on this different setting.
Taken in a general (rather than specifically worship sense), the New Testament speaks of angels being fully aware of what is going on earth: consider the on-going descriptions of angelic knowledge and intervention in the book of Revelation. Angels are presented as knowing what Christians do and say. In 1 Timothy 5:21 the author warns his reader(s) that the “charge” (duty) he was giving was “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels.” Hebrews 1:14 speaks of their on-going desire to benefit Christians in their daily lives, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” Since they had knowledge of how Christians were acting, the woman’s “covering” would be non-verbal acknowledgment to them that she recognized and accepted her proper place in the hierarchy of power.
Some flip this argument over (more in a sermonic development of the positive implications of the text than as direct exegesis) and stress that the “covering” was an implicit reminder to males that they were to remember their own obligations as well. They were to treat her with the respect and courtesy a God-fearing woman was supposed to enjoy.
To return to the church meeting context preferred by most, some interpreters strip the word “angels” of the supernatural connotation we normally read into it. Strictly speaking, any messenger was an angel. Taken this way, the women were to have their heads covered lest they “scandaliz[e] visitors from other churches,” especially official or unofficial delegations that might be carrying information or requests from other places. The point is interesting, but there is a very great difference between “visitors” and “messengers.” Though the latter would be included in the first category, one would be surprised if they represented anywhere near a majority of such individuals.
If the approach has any validity it would be that the practice enjoined by Paul was so universal that any deviation from it would not only be noticed but regarded as a scandal. This strikes the current commentator as far more a matter of the repercussions of following a different course than providing a reason not to do so. And providing a reason is clearly Paul’s intent.
A variant of the messenger scenario is that Paul has in mind unofficial visitations from the government (or by individuals secretly acting on its behalf) to observe what was going on. Since private associations of all types were viewed with considerable reserve as potential seedbeds of sedition, it was important that any behavior be of such a nature that the observers would be reassured rather than fear the Christian assembly as a potentially destabilizing influence in their town. Although one might be able to shoe-horn this into the current text, the use of “angels/messengers” as a euphemism for spies is unexpected and, barring a particularly good contextual reason, to be considered less likely than other approaches to what Paul has in mind.
[Page 179] 11:13-15: What is the head covering a woman is expected to wear? An initial reading of the preceding text (verses 4-12), makes one think that Paul had in mind some type of man-made head-covering: In today’s society we would conjure up the image of a scarf or perhaps even hat--which only three or four decades ago was universal female attire on formal occasions. In ancient society, reference to a female head covering would most likely make the listener think in terms of some type of a veil.
Veils could come in two forms in ancient society: those that covered the head and those that were utilized to cover the face as well. Paul specifies that it is not “proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered” (11:13). He conspicuously does not insist that it would not be “proper for a woman to pray to God with her face uncovered.” Hence if a literal veil is under discussion it would far more likely to be of the former type rather than the latter.
One must wonder why they were appearing in this fashion in the first place. The typical reconstruction of this period argues that “respectable woman” typically went without a veil only when inside her own residence. In public it was worn, unless one was a prostitute or openly spiteful of public expectations. Why then would it not be worn in the assembly? Paul doesn’t tell us; we are left to conjecture. But since the church is conceived in the New Testament as one’s extended family (as one’s spiritual brothers and sisters), it may well be that they considered themselves at home when among them. In that context a veil would not have been required in the first place.
Caution must be exercised for the data clearly does not all go in the same direction; the evidence indicates considerable regional variation. Greek pottery frequently shows women of the area in public settings, yet without a veil, as if this were a quite acceptable way to present oneself publicly. This would seem to argue that the social stigma attached to a barehead only applied to a woman with extremely short hair or who was literally shaved. Furthermore catacomb drawings portray Christian women at worship, but without a veil.
Most germane to our topic, of the many terracotta images depicting women in Corinth (covering a period of centuries) only a few depict veils and they are from centuries before the period we are interested in. This lack of veil wearing is in keeping with much of the custom of the period, but not with the custom as often assumed when dealing with the current chapter.
Another possibility for the absence of a veil in the church meeting could have arisen from the customs of women in the pagan cults. Some wonder whether the prophesying was done “like [the] mantic prophetesses, [who] unbraid their hair and let it fly freely while they spoke” in ecstatic bodily motions and ecstatic rhetoric. If so it would refer to “disheveled hair.” Human nature is normally very conservative. If one has associated prophesying with a specific form of behavior or attire (or lack of), then one would tend to duplicate those outward appearances when one engaged in the behavior oneself.
In spite of the popularity of the reading of the text as alluding to a literal veil, when we get beyond the initial discussion (11:3-12) and reach the current verses (11:13-15), we discover that Paul has in mind something quite different from what the reading of the preceding verses has led us to expect, “Judge among yourselves: Is it proper for a [Page 180] woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (emphasis added). Hence we would be better advised to seek out an explanation on grounds of societal hostility to short hair on woman rather than its opposition to women going without some type of artificial heading covering. The woman was, indeed, to have her head covered: fully covered (“veiled,” if you wish to use the term)--but with hair.
This type interpretation has been objected to because the Greek term translated “covering” in this section is different from that translated by the similar term in the earlier verses. On the other hand, the fact that this is a continuation of the same discussion, would argue that even though different words are used the same point is in mind, the proper covering for the woman’s head--and that Paul points out that it is long hair rather than some artificial covering such as a veil.
There is another major problem with the traditional veil interpretation as well: Paul is contrasting a woman praying with an uncovered head (11:5) with a man not praying with a covered head (11:7). If the “covering” is a veil, then it should be so in both references. Under what possible set of historical or religious circumstances could it be conceivable that a first century Christian male would have normally lived everyday life with a “covered” (= veiled) head, and, therefore, would pray with one as well? We can see one in which he would both worship and live life with “long” hair (consider how much of western male society adopted this style in the 1960s and 70s), but there seems none in which a male would adopt a veil for public attire.
If this text were specifically in regard to church worship and that alone, we might think of the custom of the officiating priest/priestess in pagan cults having something over their heads when offering a sacrifice, but even that would concern one single individual--in contrast to all others present, both male and female. Even in the context of the temple worship only the priest going about his official duties would have had a covered head; all other males present who were engaged in prayer and other acts of worship would have been doing so with uncovered heads (see our earlier discussion).
Furthermore the contrast in 11:6 is for women to be either “covered” or “be shorn,” i.e., have all the hair cut off. If going veil-less was automatically to inflict upon oneself social shame (as if often assumed), why would cutting off all the hair be mentioned at? She was already “shamed” by going without the veil! On the other hand, if her head “cover” is her long hair, then she would be exposed to shame by either short hair or, worse, removing all her hair. Hence only within a covering = long hair interpretation can we adequately explain the introduction of a shame that did not previously exist.
A variant of the hair-as-covering approach is that the Corinthian women were permitting their hair to be worn loose rather than bound together in some appropriate form. Such loose hair was normally a sign of sorrow (over death or disaster) or because one felt shame for having been accused of adultery.
The problem with the “loose hair” scenario is to find a textual reference that would encourage that approach. The term “covered” would easily fit (11:5) either a veil or a woman whose hair fully and abundantly covered the head. It is more difficult to see how it would fit as a description of “binding” in some form of hair styling. It might, however, fit in well with the pagan prophetesses and their custom of “loose (long) hair” in their ecstatic mutterings (see above).
[Page 181] This approach can be blended with that of a literal veil. Taken from this direction, the veil becomes not an end in itself but a means to an end. It encourages or guarantees that she will have “the equivalent of carefully tended, well-ordered hair” in contrast with it being “loose” and “untidy.” The underlying purpose would be to assure publicly visible differentiation of the genders.
11:21-22, 34: The nature of the feasting that had been introduced into the church assembly. Perhaps this had begun innocently enough, with every one bringing what they could and all sharing from the combined supply. If so, it certainly had not remained that way!
For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. . . . But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment . . . (11:21-22, 34).
Paul had no problem with them getting together to dine and having a good time: he simply stresses it should be done in their “houses” and “home(s)” rather than becoming a function of the church’s meeting (11:22, 34). He stresses the social injustice of what was happening: people were going hungry and others in the same meeting didn’t even pause (11:21), presumably because they themselves or the faction they were aligned with had plenty (cf. 11:18-19).
Yet he does not call for the reform of the situation: he calls for its abolishment so that they may put their minds front, center, and exclusively on the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26). To him the church service and anything directly connected with the church’s gathering was for the worship of God. It was not even for what would be totally innocent and even desirable activities if partaken of in a different setting. With this approach to the subject it is hard to imagine that Paul would have looked with sympathy on modern church fellowship suppers, social activities, and recreational and entertainment events even when separated from the communion--though virtually universal they have become.
It is intriguing that the apostle rebukes them with the criticism that “in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk” (11:21). It sounds like the situation had so disintegrated that even factional loyalty could not get them to wait—at least often!
But there is also an economic class element here. Those who could afford the indulgence likely arrived “ahead of others;” those who did not have the resources to join in as equals arrived latter, presumably after the meal could be expected to be over. Whether intended or not this “shame[d] (= embarrassed, humiliated) those who have nothing” (11:22). This would not be atypical of the “snobbish” element of upper class mentality and, historically, this mind frame was common among the Roman elite and those who imitated their ways.
[Page 182] An alternative scenario is also possible: the meals provided were available to all--if they got there on time. Those well-to-do (or more-or-less so) would have had the leisure to come early as well as provide an elaborate meal for themselves (and select friends) while those at the other end of society’s totem pole (such as tradespeople and slaves) might well be restricted as to how quickly they could escape from their duties to attend the services.
By going ahead with the eating, knowing full well that certain members were not present who could be counted on to be there under normal circumstances, guaranteed that these late arrivals would go without. Intended explicitly as such as not, it was the triumph of self-centeredness, selfishness, and indifference over concern for those who, on the spiritual level, were supposed to be counted as their brothers and sisters. At least if they had waited and shared, they would have experienced that “bonding” experience that typically occurs when human beings share a friendly meal together. This they denied both themselves and the others as well.
Yet a third possibility grows out of known Roman customs of the era. During the Roman Saturnalia, the rich were supposed to feed their servants but the unscrupulous were known to assure that they themselves got the best portions and the servants a pittance. Paul’s description is compatible with the poorer Christians being treated in such a contemptible manner. Indeed, this also could explain why some might not arrive until after the meal--they did not desire to be embarrassed by what was going on.
A variant of this approach is that there was, indeed, plenty of food available for one and all—provided by the more well-to-do members. What was happening was that, for reasons conscious or unconscious, good or bad, they hogged more than their fair share and this resulted in “lesser” members being left with nothing at all.
Of course the Communion, standing alone, could also be abused by the “prestigious” element in the congregation. It was quite possible that when the “right” (= important, influential, wealthy) members arrived, they would go ahead with the Supper even though others who were likely to come had not arrived. Hence the admonition that when they “come together to eat” the Supper, they must “wait for one another” before partaking, lest anyone be left out (11:33). Today we would call it common courtesy. Among them it was sadly lacking.
Among other things, Paul was attempting to rein in here and in other areas of his letter an excessive Corinthian exuberance—the self-centered, “lets worship with our faction and have a good time” mentality that counted others as of little value so long as “we” are happy. They were “unfeeling” in regard to how they treated others and how these people would react. The terms arrogant, self-centered, and callous would also be epithets describing their mind frame. What was worse is that they were probably not even aware of what they were doing: it had become so engrained as a behavior style it became the expected norm.
As the result they were willing to sacrifice restraint and decorum in worship in a manner that demonstrated something bordering on blasé unconcern. The forms remained (communion, speaking in tongues, prophetic teaching, etc.) but they were overwhelmed by the self-centeredness of it all. The poorer and less well off were ignored. The impact upon visitors was ignored. Everything was interpreted in the narrowest context of individual and clique self-interest.
[Page 183] Although such an orientation remains in the worship service of certain religious bodies today (and factions of others), if Paul were to write a “Third Corinthians” epistle to a more or less typical congregation of our age, his critique would likely target the very opposite extreme—a careful formality and “correctness” that is so “proper” and “respectful” that all the real passion that should accompany it has disappeared.
Anyone who has worshipped at a place that routinely turns joyful hymns of praise into funeral dirges will readily grasp the phenomena. Or at a place where “everything has its proper place and time” to such an extent that any spontaneous change to meet an unexpected circumstance is viewed as disruptive no matter how circumspectly implemented.
11:23: The origin of Paul’s teaching regarding the Communion. The apostle asserts that what he taught about the Communion he had “received from the Lord” (11:23). This could mean that he had received a personal, direct revelation from Jesus. His emphasis in Galatians upon apostolic independence from reliance upon the other apostles certainly argues a disinclination to be more than necessarily dependent on lesser sources.
Furthermore, the Acts and Pauline epistles emphasize Paul having been converted through the direct personal appearance of the resurrected Jesus to him. One who works from this assumption would be inclined to suspect that Paul’s next questions (as soon as he regained normal functioning from the physical blindness on the road to Damascus) would involve the desire to know as much more from Jesus as He would be willing to directly reveal, including the nature of the proper worship of the Risen One—a matter inevitably involving the appropriate remembering of that death and resurrection in the collective regular Christian devotionals.
But this is argument from assumption, suggestive at the most. Is there anything in the current context that might more clearly point in this direction? Perhaps there is: the passage is one of the few in which Paul directly asserts having received a teaching from the Lord, which suggests a direct personal reliance upon Christ’s revelatory work that differs from the other cases.
The description of receiving from the Lord, however, could also mean that “what he preached had its origin with the Lord, and so he can state that he received it from the Lord” (our emphasis). In favor of this would be the idea that “revelation” had the primary purpose of revealing, i.e., that which had not been known before. When a subject was already well known to many (as the story of the last night of Jesus would have been), one would anticipate it being shared in written or oral form and that there would be few if any occasions where there would be a need for it to be presented by any other means.
Suggestive as it is, this is far from conclusive. Repeatedly the Hebrew Testament prophets hit on similar themes time and again rather than merely appealing to what earlier prophets had spoken. These affirmations are accompanied countless times by the assertion, “thus says the Lord”—as if the Lord had directly given either the words or the substance of the critique to the prophets. For Paul to argue that he received knowledge of the institution of the communion in a similar manner would be consistent with this prophetic tradition and also work to reinforce his claim to be independent of relying upon the apostolic work of his predecessors.
[Page 184] Leander E. Keck reconstructs the situation this way to justify a church transmitted rather than a directly Christ transmitted origin for the teaching: he argues that Paul, both here and in his discussion of the resurrection in 15:3-7, utilized what amounted to technical terminology. He used
the Greek equivalent of technical rabbinic terms for receiving and delivering tradition. It is likely that he received these traditions when he became a member of the church, just as it is likely that the traditions themselves had been formulated by the Hellenistic Jewish Christians in Damascus or Antioch, who in turn relied, in part, on motifs and phrases used in Palestine.
Similarly, William R. Farmer similarly rejects the option of a direct message being delivered to Paul on the subject because “[a]ll the technical terminology used by Paul indicates that this tradition like that concerning the Resurrection appearance he mentions later (15:3-7), has been handed on as a well formulated statement in the conventional manner of the time.”
Actually Paul specifies in regard to the Communion who he had received the teaching from, that “I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” and then proceeds to concisely narrate the institution of the Supper (11:23). In marked contrast, he asserts in regard to the resurrection that “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received” (15:3) without telling whether that source was the Lord or those of the first generation of believers who were personally acquainted with the events. Hence the argument is based upon the assertion of the same source existing in both texts and that assertion is conspicuously missing.
Keck’s reconstruction has even greater problems: not only did Paul not receive the teaching from Christ in any direct fashion, but the indirectness itself virtually guaranteed the transmission of the minimal amount of historically reliable data. The reconstruction argues that Paul received the teaching from either Damascus or Antioch and, even then, it was “second hand,” so to speak, and borrowed from a Palestinian root and was modified in various ways in doing so. Hence we have Paul using a Syrian teaching which was based upon a Palestinian teaching which, presumably, was in some manner based upon the remembrance of Jesus’ own teaching. Could Paul responsibly use the term “from the Lord” to describe such an elusive, vague, and extremely indirect process?
In normal usage one would, rather, anticipate his meaning he obtained the knowledge miraculously and supernaturally, the reliability of it being confirmed by the reminiscences of the other apostles and the first generation disciples he met.
Of course one may argue that Paul is merely assuming that the indirectly received teaching ultimately originated with the Lord, but is this the way we would expect him to describe such a conception? Hence, whether we personally accept the validity of Paul’s blunt claim, we are faced with a man who thought the record he presented was vouched for by no one short of the One who had originated the practice.
Turning to C. F. D. Moule, he also makes the same essential argument that the terminology of receiving and transmitting require that the data have been obtained from a purely human source. He reveals a fundamental assumption that likely underlies [Page 185] many such arguments: as he sees it, the only means that the Lord “revealed” anything to the apostle was through visions: “it is intrinsically improbable, in any case, that what is here described should be the contents of a vision.” The arbitrary limitation of Divine revelatory means to this one form seems quite inappropriate, especially in light of this epistle’s emphasis in the following chapter that God provided guidance through multiple means including the prophetic (i.e., giving the message to be taught).
Even if we limit ourselves strictly to visions, that in no way necessarily undermines the historic reliability of what is described. (The modern scholarly theory of visions seems to dismiss the phenomena as totally subjective rather than as a means of directly conveying supernaturally originated information. In other words, we generate our own visions rather than they being tools utilized by God.) As a scholar of an earlier generation rightly points out, such a genuine visionary origin is quite congenial in this particular case,
In what form the revelation came to him, we are not told. Did it come in the form of some dramatic vision of the Last Supper and of what was said and done there? In that event, the vision would be compacted partly out of materials of knowledge that had lain previously in Paul’s own mind [and] partly from the new element of knowledge regarding his Lord’s will concerning the rite.
In this case, there would be no difficulty in understanding how Paul was led to put the words, “This do in remembrance of me,” into the mouth of Jesus at the Last Supper. Had he not himself heard them spoken there?
11:24-26: The Communion as a memorial of Jesus’ death. The Corinthians are described as “eat[ing] this bread and drink[ing] this cup” (11:26) which suggests that the membership at large was participating in both elements of the observance. The fact that Paul is describing what happened regularly in their service and since we know that they had their weekly service on Sunday (16:1-4), the conclusion seems inescapable that it was partaken of on that day on a weekly rather than irregular basis. (The customs of daily or less-than-weekly observance grew up much later.)
The “bread” referred to was presumably unleavened since the Supper was instituted at the time of the Passover (Matthew 26:17-29; Luke 22:14-23) when leavened products were not permitted in the household at all. Similar reasoning would suggest that what was in the “cup” both Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:25) and Paul allude to (11:26-28) and which the synoptics describe as the “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; Luke 22:18) would be unfermented grape juice. In actual practice, however, it appears that the reasoning was only applied during the Passover to the bread that was eaten rather than the wine that was drunk.
For those basing their conclusions on the words actually used (rather than their historical context), they would indicate “bread”—any type—would be permissible and “fruit of the vine”—anything from grape juice to actual wine. This lack of specificity would permit the maximum adjustment to local needs, availability, and conditions. Did Paul and the others expect us to interpret the words in the light of their historical context or as “standing on their own” since many in future generations would know little or nothing of the former?
[Page 186] Before giving the apostles the bread, Jesus “had given thanks” (1 Corinthians 11:24). We read that before giving them “the cup” he acted “in the same manner” (14:14), i.e., he also gave a prayer of thankfulness for it. The Greek term for “had given thanks” is eucharistesas and it is from this act of prayer before the participation that the term “Eucharist” came into use as a synonym for the entire observance.
Chronologically Paul is careful to separate what Christians were doing from the Passover. It was “after Supper” that the cup was given (11:25) and not during it. Unless one wishes to attempt to place the offering of the bread (11:24) at a dramatically different time that evening, this would imply that the offering of both were done after the Passover rituals were completed. Yet having been first offered on Passover, the depiction of Jesus as the Christians’ “passover” was a quite natural spiritual conceptual development of that original historical context (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Paul provides at least five descriptions of the importance of the memorial attributed to Christ:
(1) The observance is “in remembrance of Me [Jesus],” spoken of both the bread and the cup (11:24, 25). Just as we have national holidays to remember important individuals and events, likewise the Lord’s Supper remembers Jesus’ life and death. Just as earthly holidays in the late twentieth century often passed from days of honoring to days of self-enjoyment, the remembrance of Jesus can become so “humdrum” that the intended memory-provoking purpose can be lost. Conscious intent makes the difference.
The Communion is properly thought of as a testament to our faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Indirectly it bears witness to our conviction that He is still alive and at work even today through us and the church. Even so the central purpose is to remind us of the pain and anguish that occurred in His dying so that we will never fall into the trap of undervaluing the high cost at which our human souls were redeemed.
The historical legitimacy of these words has been challenged on the grounds that it is irreconcilable with Jesus’ conviction that His kingdom was imminent. There simply was no need for such an ongoing observance in such a case. This assumes the validity of the widespread modern belief—from extreme conservative at one end of the theological spectrum to extreme liberal at the other end--that the kingdom and church are to be viewed as two distinct phenomena. In New Testament terms there is significant evidence that they were regarded as two different descriptions of different aspects of the same institution. The most concise and telling evidence of this is Jesus’ promise to Peter to build His church, while in the very next verse promising that Peter would utilize “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” within that church (Matthew 16:18-19).
Furthermore, even if one utilizes “imminency” rhetoric, the question would remain of how imminent. Assuming a gap of even a decade or two, and an on-going observance would make perfect sense as a tool to keep it all fresh in the believing community’s collective memory.
(2) The observance is of personal significance: of the bread in particular, Jesus is quoted as saying, “this is My body which is broken for you” (10:24). What is of personal importance is normally valued more highly than that which is not. For example, we think far more highly of a gift given to us than one given to a stranger. Likewise Jesus’ death is pictured as something done for each of us as individuals--and to be remembered and honored for that reason.
[Page 187] Within the context of the collective “you” of all believers and the worship service in particular, it was designed to be a unifying force, reminding them all of the shared Lord they had in common, their shared goals, their shared aspirations, their shared salvation. It was an open display and proclamation of the relationship that existed in both directions. Hence any act of dishonoring the remembrance was a double dishonoring, simultaneously--of each other and of their Christ. By dishonoring the remembered Christ they dishonored each other.
Furthermore they publicly became “one,” so to speak, by partaking of the same “one” loaf and the “one” cup; thereby they became united with each other and with Christ. It was not literally so but terms like “figurative” and “symbolic” don’t quite seem to do the idea justice either. One scholar suggests that “this blurriness” in Paul’s language is intentional and that he is utilizing a kind of “poetic evocation” for sentiments that can best be expressed only in such language.
The nature of the observance has produced exhaustive (and exhausting!) discussions of the significance of “body” and “is” in this verse. “It has been disputed whether is should be interpreted ‘is like,’ ‘represents,’ ‘symbolizes,’ ‘stands for,’ ‘conveys,’ or ‘means the same as’; and many theologians have insisted that it means ‘is identical with,’ ‘is the same thing as,’ or ‘has the same substance as.’ ” Yet the fact that Jesus was sitting right there with them argues that the apostles were hardly like to interpret it with much literalness. They saw the body of flesh and blood; to interpret the bread and fruit of the vine as identical would have defied the appearance and taste of what they partook.
(3) “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (“This cup is the new covenant which My blood makes possible,” ATP) Paul quotes Jesus as affirming in 11:25. Instead of referring to the liquid in the cup, the cup itself is made to represent the blood since holding and containing that fruit of the vine is the purpose for the cup to be used at all.
The importance of “blood” in Jewish thought was that it was the source of life, an insight that is traced as far back as the early chapters of Genesis (9:4-5). The redemptive power of Christ’s blood was forefigured in the ancient sacrifices, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement to the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Yet it was not just the shedding of the blood but the application of it that brought its ultimate spiritual value (cf. Hebrews 9:19-22).
The words “new covenant” shows that Jesus had in mind the establishment of a new religious system and that just as that of Moses had been instituted with the shedding of blood so would that of Jesus (cf. the reasoning in Hebrews 9:16-28). Hebrews 13:20 preserves the imagery in its use of the phrase “the blood of the everlasting covenant” in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Here we have the blending together of the two ideas of a new covenant (as in Jeremiah 31:31) and that of blood establishing the covenant as in Exodus 24:8, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” By “covenant” Moses meant one embodied in “all these words” (Exodus 24:8) that they had heard from “the Book of the Covenant [that he had just] read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient’ ” (Exodus 24:7). The shedding of the blood showed the seriousness of the [Page 188] covenant and the fact that it conveyed life (the ancient belief and all too true reality--that life is in the blood; without it there is no life). It being “shed” upon the listeners showed that the “life blood” was now on them as well and symbolized how seriously God took the arrangement for human behavior and worship that He had revealed.
“Every Jew present in that Upper Room knew there was already a covenant established by God; when Jesus grants another one, it is necessarily a new one.” It would be new in a number of senses. Since it was designed to ultimately include Gentiles, its provisions obviously had to be different. The same fact grew out of the fact that it was self-consciously designed from the outset to be for a world-wide religion (cf. the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20) rather than this being the result of a diasporia of a group originally intended to be located in only one region.
Other reasons have also been suggested for the needed appellation of “new” to describe the covenant. Donald Parsons, for example, speaks of the new “interior quality of the covenant and the immediacy of the relationship between God and the believer.” In addition, he mentions the gift of the Holy Spirit to all (Acts 2:38).
(4) The partaking was to be accompanied by “giv[ing] thanks” (11:24). In the immediate context, it would be giving thanks for the bread and fruit of the vine since those are the direct actions about to be carried out. From a post-resurrection perspective this would involve giving thanks for the death and resurrection that the observance is to bring to our minds. Fritz Chenderlin suggests that the terminology is so broad that it could also possibly include “a prayer of some length, including praise, thanks, and petitions for blessings related to” Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
(5) The first four explanations of the importance of the observance are derived from the institution accounts that Paul quotes or refers to. In 11:26, Paul adds one of his own: It is intended to be a permanent, on-going memorial. It is one that will “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Paul had a passionate hope, as seen in other places, that Jesus would soon return. Yet in places like this, the text only makes sense if Paul also recognized that he had no way of knowing for sure. He wished them to be prepared no matter how long it might be.
Both Jews and Gentiles had “memorial” elements in their religion. In the Gentile tradition, regular observances were sometimes held in honor of individuals considered heroic or pivotal in a community’s development—memorials that openly took on elements of not just respect but outright worship. For Hebrews, the supreme example of a “memorial” was the Passover, to bring alive each year the drama of Israel’s rescue from captivity in Egypt.
11:27-29: Self-examination as to one’s motives and behavior in order to avoid partaking in an “unworthy manner.” An earlier generation (and quite possibly many today) take the KJV’s prohibition of partaking “unworthily” as a reason not to take the Communion whenever they feel concerned over their spiritual state or some particular situation in their life. Peter Verkruyse recalls, “as a young boy,” visiting at the services of a congregation that felt particularly strongly on the need to measure up to that standard. “I watched while each person, in turn, received the goblet and tray and silently passed it on. In the end, not one person had tasted the wine or the bread.”
[Page 189] Even the rendering, an “unworthy manner” can be similarly misread, though with more difficulty. Close attention makes plain that it is not criticizing a “sinner” for partaking (who isn’t one?) but the inappropriate “manner” involved—how one does it and not what one is.
The Corinthians’ “unworthy manner” is easy to detect in a series of errors that demeaned the Death they were honoring: (1) not waiting for each other; (2) not sharing with all; in effect “mistreating the poor;” (3) getting drunk, and so on. Robert L. Deffinbaugh, suggests, with considerable justice, that their problem actually went far deeper than this veneer of unconcern and excess: they were guilty of a fundamental “irreverence.” The physical body being remembered through the bread and fruit of the vine were treated, in effect, as unimportant for reverence and the spiritual body, the church, with at least equal disrespect.
This does not mean that a person who knows full well they’ve done something atrocious is respecting the Supper any more than those who “rolled over” the self-respect of other partakers in Corinth. But there is a profound difference between this and magnifying one’s imperfections far beyond their actual nature. If one is concerned over such matters the appropriate action would be to pray for forgiveness before partaking of the service and--when one leaves the service--be determined to do the right thing in the future.
The exaggeration of the degree of purity required to participate is far from a new one. That the text requires a person to be personally “worthy” before being admitted to participation goes back at least as far as Augustine in his Homilies on the Gospel of John (Tractate 62, 1). Of course there is nothing wrong or improper in one confessing sin to God as part of one’s personal preparation for participation, but that is not the point the apostle is trying to communicate.
Partaking in an “unworthy manner” could, of course, involve matters not specifically under consideration by Paul. For example, it could easily also include the frame of mind of the participant. If one is not concentrating on the observance, if the mind is a million miles away on the golf game that afternoon (to give but one of innumerable possible illustrations) how can the observance be considered as being done in a “worthy manner”? We aren’t really paying attention to it. We are doing the right “act” but there is no substance of belief or commitment behind it. We are going through empty motions and nothing more.
By acting in such a way, they were not “discerning the Lord’s body” (vs. 29)—not giving it its proper understanding and respect. Although there may be an allusion here to the “body” in the Ephesian epistle sense of the church as Christ’s earthly body, this is far more likely an appropriate sermonic application of the text rather than its original intent: by their disrespect, discourtesy, and excesses they were betraying a lack of spiritual insight into the proper relationship with their coreligionists. They had failed to recognize what all those who are of faith have in common. It was not an abstract disrespect for the “Lord’s body” in a theoretical and “institutional” sense, but an actual disrespect for those members of it among whom they worshipped and lived.
Yet something far more basic than even this seems to be the center of attention. Christ’s personal body is being scorned. They are, if you will, engaged in active sacrilege.
[Page 190] The “Lord” reference is sometimes omitted in translations because a number of the earliest and presumably most accurate manuscripts lack it; it is contained in the bulk and the thrust of Paul’s argument seems to require that we assume that that subject is under discussion whether explicitly included as part of the text or not. Hence, either way, their observance is supposed to carry their minds back to the time of crucifixion so they can “discern” what He had done for the human race through redemption.
Those who believe in the “real presence” often take this one step further as implying that their sin involved a failure to recognize that He was, in a quite “literal” sense, there as well. Since their problem in regard to the Communion lay in their behavior rather than their theology, this is a very major step beyond what the author intended.
They were wrapped up in joyous partying and had lost sight of where their attention should have been. As the result they were eating and drinking self-judgment/self-condemnation upon themselves. As such they became guilty of Christ’s blood and body (verse 27). They were just as guilty of rejecting Christ now as those were who had carried out the actual crucifixion—the form differed, but the disrespect, dishonor, and repudiation was shared.
11:33: How large was the Corinthian congregation? Did the Corinthian “church” consist of a number of “house churches?” These two questions are potentially interlocked; it is assumed that the more “house churches,” the larger the city-wide church than if the church were all meeting in a single place together. This is because the fact that a meal was partaken of as the heart of the service has been used to estimate the size of the Corinthian congregation. Wealthy homes that have been evacuated at Corinth indicate limited space, even if both courtyard and dining room were utilized simultaneously. Working with this combination, estimates begin in the range of twenty to thirty attendees, in other words thirty at the maximum and that would be stretching it.
Others are more generous suggesting thirty to forty worshippers, while others increase that number to under fifty or sixty individuals. Hence if the entire congregation actually met in one person’s home, then the maximum membership had to be sixty or under. In all fairness, probably half that number if that many.
Such low estimates creates the immediate problem of whether we could imagine the degree of havoc depicted in 1 Corinthians as existing in that small a group. However, you calculate the capacity of an individual house, the picture of the Corinthian worship found in the epistle would seem to imply considerably more than this number being present. Indeed, a defender of such modest numbers concedes that sixteen members of the Corinthian church are mentioned in passing (Acts 18:7-8, 17; Romans 16:1, 21-23; 1 Corinthians 16:17-19). At least some--most likely, nearly all--were married and some of their servants (households) were Christians as well. Even assuming that this is anywhere near a complete list--and since these were not intended as a formal listing of the entire membership this is hardly likely--it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the attendance and membership must have been at least quadruple the “low” estimates and double the higher ones, i.e., 100-120 minimum.
[Page 191] A text that may require a number even larger is Acts 18:9-10. There Paul receives a vision in which Christ urges him to speak confidently rather than being silent “for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” Some take this to be an indication of the church’s membership, which creates a severe problem for those who picture the Corinthian group as numbering only, say, in the 30s-50s range.
It seems far more likely that the “many” refer to sympathizers as well as converts and one can usually anticipate far more of the former than the latter. Yet, if there were “many” sympathizers would it not be probable that this was at least partly the result of there being “many” members as well?
One way to avoid the difficulty of too many people for too small a meeting place (i.e., a private home) is to postulate that the “church” in Corinth actually consisted of a number of “house churches.” Taken together these house churches constituted the church in a given city. This would permit the collective “church” to have a very large membership while the individual “house churches” had a very modest one.
Possible indications of the existence of house churches in Corinth. The house church reconstruction of Christian religious life in Corinth gained an amazing amount of support in the last decades of the twentieth century in spite of the weak evidence in its behalf. The pivotal problem is that if the Corinthian troubles existed within such a context one would anticipate explicit indications that their religious life took place in such a form and the evidence from this epistle seems very far from supporting it.
For example 1 Corinthians 14:23 refers to “if the whole church comes together in one place” and this has been cited as evidence that these house churches periodically met together. Of course this is based upon the assumption that house churches existed in the city. The passage would equally well be explained with the scenario that “the church” exists in a community whether at worship or not but that it all only “comes together in one place” at a time of worship. The point of comparison would not be house churches but how at most times the members were dispersed carrying out their normal daily lives.
It is also argued that the very divisiveness Paul rebukes in chapter one would easily arise in the context of a variety of house churches within Corinth. Anyone associated with modern religious life recognizes that it can equally well arise in any significant size congregation as members move in and out, external events affect the group, and new theological trends rise to challenge and sometimes anger segments of the membership.
Furthermore, if they were separate house churches, one would anticipate the “Paul” faction meeting in one home; the “Apollos” faction in another; the Cephas” group in a third; and the “Christ” followers in yet a fourth. The problem of internal division would have been automatically “solved:” they would have been having nothing to do with each other! Each individual house church would be united in its own little faction rather than facing the internal divisions pictured in the epistle. Why even bother to meet with the other groups; this would “eliminate” squabbling and allow a peaceful worship of the Lord. Hence no “divisions” because the groups would never meet and, therefore, their differences would never be on display.
One might try to avoid this argument by arguing that the multiple divisions criticized existed in those house churches. On the other hand could a house church be as divided as depicted in the epistle without totally ceasing to exist? It seems unlikely. A [Page 192] large group might stumble on, but one so small would be far more likely to collapse. Alternatively, one could easily arrive at the scenario already suggested, with each faction meeting separately. No internal divisions--for those who disagreed would be meeting elsewhere and one would not have the “divisive” situation Paul depicts for no one bothered to talk with each other!
Jurgen Becker argues that all the house churches met together only upon “important occasions” which occurred at “irregular intervals.” The matter of church discipline in chapter 5, for example, had to be dealt with in such a meeting or the offender could simply take refuge in a different house church. Yet, in this scenario, what would keep a house church from refusing to go along with the decision and providing the offender with a safe harbor? The only way the man could be stripped of such a shelter was if all the Christians met together in one congregation at one time—at least in the meetings they regarded as “church” rather than informal social or spiritual gatherings for “private” study or enjoyment.
Becker also cites the need of a city wide meeting of house churches for the collection in chapter 16 since an individual house church “should not and would not want to take care of the collection for Jerusalem.” Of course this poses a difficulty with the popular scenario that the setting aside of the charitable contribution took place individually and was only pooled together when Paul came: now it is transformed into a group collection, but in the much smaller group of a “house church” (which would typically be expected to include at least some outsiders) rather than in private, at home by each individual or family. As to the assumption that a house church would not want to be involved, the logical response would be: Why not if they thought the cause was truly important?
Now let us look at the other side of the coin. What evidence is there that the entire congregation met in one place? 1 Corinthians 14:23 (above) again comes to the forefront as referring to at least some such gatherings. Barring imminent danger one would be hard pressed to see why they would have avoided doing so on an on-going basis.
The distinction between church and household groups seems implicit in Paul’s exiling of communal meals from the church assembly, “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment . . .” (11:34). Now if they were meeting in house churches how could Paul exile individual and larger groups (verse 22) to such places when they were already there and services were nearly always in such a context?
One could argue that Paul is referring to those city wide meetings of the church where the Lord’s Supper was held, but then one would be faced with the dilemma of how such a pivotal part of their worship was exiled from the place and time when they most often met in collective worship. (Of course in those places where there were house churches there must have been some way of distinguishing private meetings from church meetings. How to do so is a matter we would expect Paul to have raised in 1 Corinthians if house churches were the norm in that city.)
To minimize the danger of factionalism arising from house churches and infrequent area wide meetings, one would anticipate the local Christians doing their best to maximize the number of such “city” gatherings. In such a context, “household” groups might well hold such periodic gatherings for private edification of themselves and invited guests as versus the “congregational” meeting which was intended for everyone. Such is [Page 193] done today upon occasion; it would have been a natural format for the first century as well. But without the smaller groups being considered formal “churches.”
Another indication of a one-site meeting of all Christians in Corinth is, oddly enough, found in Romans 16:23. Again assuming we are dealing with Corinth (which is normally granted), the text refers to “Gaius, my host, and the host of the whole church. . . .” This has been taken as evidence that the entire congregation at least periodically utilized the home of Gaius to meet. Wayne A. Meeks adopts the “several household groups” scenario but concedes, on the basis of this text, that they met “occasionally” at Gaius’ home. If “occasionally” why not “regularly”? Especially as Meeks’ admission clearly implies it was quite spacious enough to hold them all?
Of course the problem of any large group meeting in Gaius’ home arises from the fact that homes could not physically accommodate such a large number of people—on either an on-going or occasional basis. We emphasized the words “the host” in the quote above because they are lacking in the actual text and have been provided by the translators to complete the sense. It is a quite probable reconstruction, but it is also ambiguous: a person could be “host” either in their own house or in the sense of providing a meeting place large enough for the entire congregation to meet, i.e., a place owned or controlled by Gaius but not his home. In other words we may have here an indication of who owned the place the entire group met even if we can not identify whether it took the form of a warehouse or something else entirely.
In Troas, for example we read of the Christians gathering in an “upper room” (20:8) that was on the “third story” of the building (20:9). Whether this be a warehouse or other commercial facility, they had obtained the use of it. Would the Corinthians be any less inclined to do so? Indeed, one would not be surprised if Gaius or some other prosperous member owned such a facility.
What we have said is not to deny the existence of house churches, especially when the ministry in a city was young and immature nor in those cases where a family was geographically so separated from the others in the city that attendance would have been impractical (likely the situation in Rome, where the epistle to Rome includes a reference to the house church of Aquila and Priscilla [16:3-4], as if it were separate from the church in that city). What we are contending is that the introduction of house churches into the Corinthian situation is far too conjectural, lacks adequate evidence, and would have created a situation where explicit references to it by Paul would have been required to adequately and accurately describe their problems and how to solve them. And, whatever faults critics may attribute to the apostle Paul, he was hardly likely to have fallen short on such a score.
If there were house churches can any of them be identified? If there were house churches in Corinth, the importance implied about Stephanus (chapter 16) makes his home the likely meeting place of one. Stephanus himself was apparently a man who enjoyed financial independence. The “household of Stephanas” is described as “the firstfruits (= converts) of Achaia” and the entire household had “devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (16:15). Without a significant income that could be relied upon, it would have been impossible for them to so fully have devoted themselves to the service of the church as their primary goal--and that appears the clear implication of the text.
[Page 194] The importance of the information obtained from Chloe’s household in chapter 1 would certainly make her home the likely meeting place of another group. The fact that she had the financial capacity to send out representatives argues that she would have been an excellent candidate for having a relatively large home by the standards of the day.
Assuming that Romans was written from Corinth and that that epistle’s “Gaius” is the same individual referred to by Paul in the current letter (1 Corinthians 1:14; cf. Romans 16:23), his home would certainly have represented another likely site. Romans 16:23 mentions another individual besides Gaius, “Erastus, the treasurer of the city” (of Corinth): his leading role immediately makes his residence the likely place for another group to meet.
If the Crispus of 1 Corinthians 1:14 is the same as the Jewish religious leader of Acts 18:8—and it is often assumed that he was converted after the civil disturbance described in Acts--then it is quite likely that he also was a person of independent means. Hence we can isolate a minimum of five specific individuals to connect with such groups. If one rejects the “house church” reconstruction, as we do, these names at least enable us to identify at least part of the socio-economic “upper class” of that congregation.
Yet Paul speaks as if the problems he discusses all entail one group meeting in one place at one time. Hence serious consideration should be given to the possibility that Christians were somehow able to obtain the use of some alternate facility: perhaps a floor of a warehouse or other property owned by one of the members, as suggested earlier.
Kristine A. Haig estimates the membership at around two hundred (though providing no line of reasoning to explain how she came to that number), and a membership of such a size would certainly have been sufficient to be the “seed bed” for the degree of successful divisiveness referred to in the epistle. Indeed, it seems to virtually require a hundred or two hundred to have produced this flagrant a series of breaches of decorum and unity.
 For a survey of typical Greek views of women—with the emphasis on the negative aspects—see Bristow, 3-9. For their status in Egypt, see 9-12.
 For a negative evaluation of the theory that 11:2-16 is an interpolation, see David E. Blattenberger, III, Rethinking 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 through Archaeological and Moral-Rhetorical Analysis (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997), 6-8.
 John Drane, Paul: Libertine or Legalist? A Study in the Theology of the Major Pauline Epistles (London: SPCK, 1975), 62.
[Page 195]  Some have argued that the text is better rendered as “source” rather than “head” in the occurrences of kephale in this verse. For a detailed defense of this view see Brauch, 134-140. Barrett, Corinthians, 248-249 prefers to speak in terms of “origin,” though with the same basic idea in mind. Among others who take this type of approach is Bassler, 326.
On the other side of the question, for a thorough examination of the use of the term in the Septuagint and other ancient sources that it properly conveys the sense of “authority or supremacy over someone else” (87) see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, According to Paul: Studies in the Theology of the Apostle (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1993), 83-88. A second detailed negative critique of the preference for “source” over “head” can be found in Blattenberger, 15-22. Thiselton, 811, argues “that Paul deliberately uses a polymorphous concept, through a word that has multiple meanings.” He believes that “head” does not adequately include the various connotations that the word carried, that “source” lacks adequate “lexicographical evidence” and that “pre-eminent, foremost and synecdoche for a representative role” best defines the ideas in mind (820-821).
 Quast, 68, stresses the lack of evidence for a shaved head/prostitute correlation.
 One might conjecture such situations as the result of being a public nuisance due to drunkenness, belligerent behavior, or for theft from customers.
 Gen. Rab. 8.9, as quoted by Ciampa and Rosner, 734.
 Marianne Sawicki, Faith & Sexism: Guidelines for Religious Educators (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 49.
 Gillian Beattie, Women and Marriage in Paul and His Early Interpreters (London: T & T Clarke, 2005), 52.
 Robert M. Grant, Paul, 38, quotes and summarizes ancient views and argues that Paul misunderstood the ancient Greco-Roman attitude. On the contrary, the evidence he quotes is far more ambiguous: Zeno defends both long hair and cutting it (i.e., making the preference hinge upon what one is doing). Dio Chrysostom endorses long hair on males, which is essentially irrelevant if he expected even longer hair on women as well (i.e., men had “short” hair when compared with women). Epictetus makes the male-female difference one of being able to have a beard, but there the emphasis is on physical ability versus cultural enjoined expectations of feminity and masculinity. For evidence that Dio Chrysostom actually expected short hair on males and how that was the expected Greco-Roman norm, see Winter, Corinth, 131-133.
 Blattenberger, 53-54.
 Ibid., 133-134.
 For quotations and interpretations, see Murphy-O’Connor, Keys, 144-146. He notes that some argue that certain of his interpretations are conjectural (161-162) but argues, implicitly, that even if that were granted, the objection would only apply to some of the texts and not all.
 Heil, n. 9, 180.
 On the rhetorical style being utilized in approaching the subject this way, see Anders Eriksson, Traditions as Rhetorical Proof: Pauline Argumentation in 1 Corinthians (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1998), n. 30, 183.
 Allen, 140.
 Jon L. Berquist, Ancient Wine, New Wineskins: The Lord’s Supper in Old Testament Perspective (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 1991), 54-61, quotes Isaiah 51:17, 21-22; Jeremiah 25:15-18, 28-29; 49:12; Ezekiel 23:31-33; and Habakkuk 2:15-17. The difficulty with this scenario as more than sermonic application is that Paul mentions both the bread and cup and the wrathful Divine giving of only the latter one can be documented.
 Chow, n. 2, 183.
 Ibid., 183. Otfried Hofius, “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Supper Tradition: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11:23b-25,” in One Loaf, One Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Corinthians 11 and Other Eucharistic Texts, edited by Ben F. Meyer (The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist, August 1988) (Macon, Georgia: Mercer, 1993) observes that the word “wait” carries (according to context of usage in ancient Greek sources), the ideas of “receiving,” “welcome,” “accept,” “take someone under one’s charge” and “take someone under one’s wing” (93-94, with accompanying footnotes providing specific cases). Hence the “waiting” conveyed the ideas of courtesy and respect that we suggested.
 Baird, Urban Culture, 123.
 Ben Witherington III, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2007), 60.
 Otto Knoch, “ ‘Do This in Memory of Me’ (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25): The celebration of the Eucharist in the Primitive Christian Communities,” in One Loaf, One [Page 197] Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Corinthians 11 and Other Eucharistic Texts, edited by Ben F. Meyer (The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist, August 1988) (Macon, Georgia: Mercer, 1993), 3-4, citing 12:14 as evidence of preaching services, though 14:26 would seem a better text to argue from.
 Georg Strecker, Theology of the New Testament, completed by Friedrich W. Horn, translated from the German by M. Eugene Boring (New York: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 168.
 Ibid., 170.
 R. K. Harrison, Numbers, in the Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary series (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 110.
 A. Noordtzij, Numbers, translated by Ed van der Maas, in the Bible Student’s Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 55. Others who take this kind of approach include Riggans, 49, and Katharine D. Sakenfeld, Journeying with God: A Commentary on the Book of Numbers, in the International Theological Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 36-37.
 For example, Raymond Bryan Brown, 353.
 Mare, 255.
 Ibid., 256-257
 Graydon F. Snyder, 150-151.
 Orr and Walther, 259.
 Polhill, 244-245.
 Holtz, 62.
 Orr and Walther, 259.
 Graydon F. Snyder, 151.
 Witherington, Conflict, 233-234.
 Meggitt, 125.
 Plutarch, Moralia, “The Roman Questions,” 10, as quoted by Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 423.
 Bristow, 58, for example says that these activities were “during public worship,” a thesis he later repeats (61). This common assumption is explicitly stated by such other scholars as Danielou, 9, Wilfrid Harrington, Jesus and Paul: Signs of Contradiction (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1987), 151, and Ute E. Eisen, Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies, translated by Linda M. Maloney (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2000), 68. Eisen provides a detailed collection of source documents related to women in various leadership roles in the early centuries as well as an extensive review of the possible meaning of the descriptive texts. John L. Thompson, Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis Is That You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 115, simply concedes that it was happening “presumably in public worship.” He notes that that the distinction between what women could do in a worship versus private setting was common in “patristic and medieval writers” and among Reformation era Protestants, though in the latter often more grudgingly and cautiously conceded (118).
 Richardson, Freedom, 63. For another effort to move the argument that public worship is under consideration beyond mere interpreter’s assertion, see Boyer, 99-100.
 Freed, 273, is clearly inclined to think of a “contradiction” between the two passages and hence suspects that the limiting verses in chapter 14 are “a later interpolation.” If Pauline, he concedes that the two chapters “may have in mind” different types of meetings, but does not pursue in what ways they might be different. Mare, 277, accepts the idea of two different contexts (private versus public worship) being under consideration.
 For a concise but detailed summary of the three approaches, see Richard Boldrey and Joyce Boldrey, Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976), 36-40.
 Susanne Heine, Women and Early Christianity: A Reappraisal, translated from the second German edition by John Bowden (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 97.
 Viewed favorably but without embracing it, by Getty, 1121, and Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1620.
 Quoted by Beattie, n. 70, 50.
 Orr and Walther, 261.
 Cf. Coffman, 171, and McGuiggan, 149.
 Viewed favorably but without embracing, by Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1620, and Wilbur E. Nelson, Believe & Behave: A Study of First Corinthians (Nashville, Tennessee: Sceptre Books, 1979), 117, and embraced by Harris, 145, and Hooker, 116.
 Raymond Bryan Brown, 354; Bruce, Corinthians, 106; Kugelman, 270. For a lengthy Qumran extract (4 Q 403, 1, 1.30-46) see Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 423-425.
 1QSa 2:3-9, as quoted by Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 419. Also quoted in a slightly different translation by Beattie, 49.
 Orr and Walther, 264.
 Weiss, Commentary, 225, sees it as clear-cut evidence of such a conviction.
 Edward J. Kissane, The Book of Psalms; volume 2: Psalms 73-150 (Dublin, Ireland: Browne and Nolan, Limited, 1954), 289..
 A. A. Anderson, 2:901 and Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 418. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms; Books IV and V, Psalms XC-CL (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901), 784, speculates that it did so “probably fearing to seem to attribute a real existence to heathen gods. . . .”
 A. A. Anderson, 2:901.
 A. A. Anderson, 2:901; Kirkpatrick, IV and V, 784; Kissane, 289.
 A. A. Anderson, 2:901; Kirkpatrick, IV and V, 784.
 Kissane, 289.
 Brauch, 149.
 George H. Livingston, “Psams 73-150,” in Job-Song of Solomon, in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), 441.
 Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, in the Anchor Bible series (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970), 276-277. G. A. F. Knight, Psalms, volume 2, in the Daily Study Bible series (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), 317, provides an impressive conjectural reconstruction of a situation in which this might occur.
 Cf. Price, 805, who takes this in the narrow sense as her right to be free of “assault or molestation.”
 Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 115.
 Winter, Corinth, 136-138.
 For examples of the prevalent interpretation of the covering as a literal veil, see among others, Bruce, Corinthians, 106; Cartledge, 105; Frederick C. Grant, 93; Hargreaves, 144; Hughes, 271; Kugelman, 270; Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1621; MacGorman, 132; Neil, 459; Parry, xlviii; Price, 805; Robertson and Plummer, 226, 230, 324; Ernest F. Scott, 136; J. Selby, 365; Russell D. Snyder, 473; Henry C. Thiessen, 206; Thrall, 78; Vanderwaal, 24; Weiss, Introduction, 275.
 Gerd Theissen, Psychological Aspects of Pauline Theology, translated from the German by John P. Galvin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 159-160, divides it into three types (and provides a description), all of which covered the head and one of which could be adjusted to cover the face as well.
 Goodspeed, 51, makes this point though without actually quoting the text.
 Connick, 279.
 Raymond Bryan Brown, 353; Boldrey and Boldrey, 59; and Connick, 279.
 Price, 805-806. The late twentieth century expression of this was the popular western attitude that one should do “do your own thing” even if it makes everyone else annoyed and even nauseous.
 On contradictory evidence as to the “need” for a headcovering in the then current society, see Talbert, 67.
 For a survey of grave reliefs in this context, see Theissen, Psychological, 161-162.
 Mare, 255, 256; Witherington, Conflict, 234. For a lengthy discussion of the evidence, see Blattenberger, 56-61.
 Witherington, Conflict, 234-235.
 Coffman, 164.
 Blattenberger, n. 53, 57.
 Luke T. Johnson, Writings, 285.
 Bruce, Converts, 85.
 Not quite embracing this interpretation but recognizing its appeal, Richards, Gospel. 50, suggests that “He toys (our emphasis) with the idea that female hair is already a kind of veil—nature’s own indication that women’s heads should be covered.” For a detailed defense of the scenario that hair and not veils is actually under discussion see Blattenberger (entire work). Fiorenza, 227, takes the approach that the “veil” is the hair and the subject is the hair style to be utilized while praying or prophesying, i.e., it is not to be disheleved or in disarray. She argues, in effect, that such echoes the LXX’s association of lack or orderly hair with uncleanness, “Numbers 5:18 (LXX) prescribes that the woman accused of adultery be marked publicly by loosening her hair. Similarly, in Leviticus 13:45 (LXX), one of the signs for the uncleanness of a leper is loose hair” (228).
 Bruce, Answers, 95.
 Cf. the discussion of this view in Mare, 255, where it is discussed without making a commitment; in the discussion on 256, Mare appears more receptive to the approach.
 Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 107.
 Mare, 259.
 Zahn, 284-285.
 This is in contrast to the dominant view that Paul is protesting against the abuse of the common meal rather than its very existence as part of the church meeting. For a defense of the traditional approach and understanding see McGuiggan, 154-157. For a survey of options as to where one could eat outside one’s literal home, see Witherington, Conflict, 191-195.
 Implied by Henshaw, 236-237.
 Cf. Grosheide, 267-268.
 This seems to be the approach of Thrall, 83. For a discussion of the varied ways in which food, even when provided by the host, could be used as a tool of snobbery or disrespect, see Chow, 111-112.
 Price, 806; Roetzel, Paul, 87; and Rafael Avila, Worship and Politics, translated from the Spanish by Alan Neely (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1981), 56.
 Cf. Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, translated by the German by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 266.
 For the use and abuse of the Saturnalia, see Witherington, Conflict, 241-242.
 Barry D. Smith, 91.
 Chenderlin, 179.
 Avila, 56.
 Koenig, 69.
 Lipscomb and Shepherd, 172.
 Grosheide, 269.
 Keck, 30. For the same argument, among others, also see Barrett, Corinthians, 264-265. Perkins, Ministering, 43, opts for Paul having learned the tradition specifically in Antioch.
 William R. Farmer, “Peter and Paul, and the Tradition Concerning ‘The Lord’s Supper’ in 1 Corinthians 22:23-26,” in One Loaf, One Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Corinthians 11 and Other Eucharistic Texts, edited by Ben F. Meyer (The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist, August 1988) (Macon, Georgia: Mercer, 1993), 36.
 McFadyen, 160.
 Thekkekara, 112, “The apostle had received it from the Lord through the community.”
 Moule, Worship, 24.
 Alexander B. MacDonald, 144-145. MacDonald (148) did not believe that Jesus actually instituted the commemoration. Also presenting the vision scenario as one reasonable explanation of Paul’s remarks is McFadyen, 160.
 Mare, 259.
 Vine, Corinthians, 157.
 Harrington, 174-175, suggests that the Corinthians may have fallen into the trap of viewing Jesus as only a historic figure of the past rather than still alive and at work through them.
 Knoch, 7.
 Cf. Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship: A Basic Introduction to Ideas and Practice (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1996), 40.
 George Panikulam, Koinonia in the New Testament: A Dynamic Expression of Christian Life (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1979), 19.
 Moloney, 161.
 Branick, House Church, 110.
 Orr and Walther, 271.
 Donald Parsons, The Holy Eucharist; Rite Two—A Devotional Commentary (New York: Crossroad Books/Seabury Press, 1976), 69-70.
 Cf. Ciampa and Rosner, 736.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 70, though without citing any specific text in particular.
 Chenderlin, 201.
 Ibid., 217.
 “Most,” says Robert L. Deffinbaugh, Let Me See Thy Glory: A Study of the Attributes of God ([N.p.]: Biblical Studies Press, 1997), 67.
 Peter Verkruyse, Building Blocks for Bible Study: Laying a Foundation for Life ([N.p.]: College Press, 1997), 62.
 Brauch, 137.
 Schreiner, 382, oddly defines Paul’s expression exclusively in this aspect, overlooking that there were several forms it was taking.
 Deffinbaugh, 68.
 Francis J. Moloney, A Body Broken for a Broken People: Eucharist in the New Testament, Revised Edition (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 153.
 Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology (London: Epworth Press, 1971), 81.
 Berquist, 62.
 Brauch, 158.
 Harris, 154, stresses that the practical result is the same in either interpretation: once we grasp “the close connection of ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ relationships,” it follows that when we recognize that Christ is present through the Supper then that knowledge requires us to undertake “a worthy eating [of it], which excludes acts of unbrotherliness” as well.
 Wainwright, 81-82.
 Puskas, 49.
 Branick, House Church, 64, and Kistemaker, Exposition, 509.
 Yeo, 91.
 Raymond E. Brown, 522, embraces very cautiously the possibility that an invited meal situation may be under consideration. Footnote 35, 522, mentions the 50 person capacity and uses it to conjecture the possibility that the most important members ate in the dining room and the less important members in the courtyard. Those with nothing, of course, did not come till the estimated time for the formal worship and communion. This still presents the problem of inadequate size for the number of likely church members.
Perkins, Reading, 177-178, also speaks in terms of fifty individuals but identifies those in the eating room as “friends of the host” while “the others would be crowded sitting in the courtyard.” The picture in Corinthians, again, seems to differ; there we seem to have either individuals and/or multiple groups eating separately while the others have nothing. This type of scenario has room for only one group doing the eating. Also there is the problem of whether cliques of the type Paul rebukes can be reduced to a mere family friendship circle.
Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 118, thinks in terms of a range around forty-fifty individuals.
 Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 118.
 Cf. Verdiere, n. 20, 45, suggests 50-100 members in a single meeting house-home. The lower number might, barely, be feasible, but the latter seems clearly “over-reaching” for a single home.
 Branick, House Church, 64, suggests that the author of Luke-Acts may have had a faulty memory. Also taking the view that a large congregation is in mind are (by implication rather than direct assertion) Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, Paul: Saint of the Inner City (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1990), 41, and William H. Willimon, Acts, in the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 145. Parker, 153, indicates a large congregation by describing verses 9-11 as depicting “a period of steady growth.”
 For example, Dodd, 34.
 Branick, House Church, 22; of Corinth in particular, 24.
 Ibid., 23.
Ibid. Implied by Yeo, 91-92.
 Kistemaker, Exposition, 386.
 Becker, 255.
 Wayne A. Meeks, “Corinthian Christians as Artificial Aliens,” in Paul Beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divide, edited by Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 132.
 Branick, House Church, 63.
 Fuller, 42.
[Page 206] For an interesting critique of whether such an officer had to be a socially prominent and wealthy individual, see Meggitt, 135-136. Meggitt makes the case that Erastus was the “treasurer” of the church in the city of Corinth.
 For the case that Crispus’ post did not carry such a connotation, however, see Ibid., 141-143.
 Kristine A. Haig, In the One Spirit: Paul’s First Letter to the Christians in Corinth ([N.p.]: Congregational Ministries Division, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 1995), 4, is content to simply mention that “some scholars” (unidentified) have suggested that number and she, herself, gives no indication of dissent from it.