Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17–22 One supper, but whose?

1 Corinthians 11:17–22

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

It is quite easy to mistake Paul’s point when he speaks about communion in the church at Roman Corinth. He is not trying to teach communion theology; instead, he is correcting communion practices that dishonor the memory of Christ’s sacrifice for others. Many churches today merely shear off the criticisms and use the rest to conduct communion services.

Frankly, any church whose meetings are described by Christ’s apostle as doing “more harm than good” (1 Cor. 11:17) ought to think hard about discipline from the Lord (more about that later). The factions Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:10 were likely factional differences between one house church and another. The differences in 1 Cor. 11:18 are of a different kind, as Anthony Thiselton explains: “Here, however, the very house meeting itself reflects splits between the socially advantaged and the socially disadvantaged.”[1]

A villa from Paul’s time, just outside Roman Corinth, had a dining room with dimensions of 24 x 18 feet, probably seating about 9 high-ranking guests. The central atrium, a combination courtyard and hallway, had dimensions of 16 x 20 feet, possibly accommodating as many as thirty in crowded conditions. Some believe “the strong” met in the dining room, where a few high-status diners could recline for a shared meal with their social equals, while all the others fit into the larger atrium as best they could.[2] Starting with the host and moving downward in social class, we have close friends, second-class friends, hangers-on, clients, freed persons, head persons, youngsters and servants. The beautiful and ancient mosaic below was taken from the dining room floor of the villa. The host’s close friends enjoyed it.


Every section of 1 Corinthians has its difficult part, and 1 Cor. 11:19 is one of those verses that has been interpreted in many ways. We cannot agree with the NIV’s translation for two reasons: (1) for Paul to say “there have to be differences among you” makes him contradict himself in a letter where he consistently teaches their unity in Christ, and (2) the Greek word for “God” does not appear in the Greek text and is supplied by translators’ assumption (according to NIV and NLT, but not ESV, NET or HCSB). Some other view is needed.

Only two explanations can cut through all the difficulties. The first would be to understand the verse as Paul’s irony or even sarcasm, but that explanation appears less likely in a context leading to judgment (verses 28–30). The preferable explanation is that Paul is not expressing his own opinion at all! Instead, “the strong” have cooked up another theological argument to defend their privileges. Further, it is not God who is doing the approving but the powerful who are claiming that certain others have not yet proven themselves tried and true.

With that start, we will next look at Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 11:19: “For ‘dissentions are unavoidable,’ it is claimed among you, in order that those who are tried and true may be visibly revealed.”[3] Thiselton, whose explanation we have begun above, joins others who believe these dissentions had been anticipated by the Corinthian believers based on Jesus’ warnings that false prophets would come in his name: Matt. 7:15 and 24:11. Thiselton suggests “the strong” took up this idea by reasoning that not everyone who claimed to be a believer might be proved tried and true. From that principle, “the strong” concluded that “dissentions are inevitable.” However, they are using this slogan not to protect the whole church but to justify separating from those who are not in their social class. In addition, they are blaming the victims by saying they are not yet proven to be “tried and true” (Greek dokimos).[4] On this basis they are resisting Paul.

The result of this scheme is well expressed by David Garland: “The splits at the Lord’s Supper are imposed by prideful, insensitive humans seeking to differentiate the top-drawer members from the common rabble.”[5] Paul’s reaction is strong: they may be eating supper, but it cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20)!

The idea of each family bringing its own food and drink is described by Garland: “The practice of ‘basket dinners,’ or eranos (contribution) dinner parties, in which persons make up a dinner for themselves and pack it into a basket to go to another’s house to eat was well known.”[6] But the result was also predictable: “one person remains hungry and another gets drunk” (1 Cor. 11:22).

As usual, when Paul whips out the rhetorical questions, it is time for those behaving badly to duck (1 Cor. 11:22). Garland explains the plight of the poor: “In the ancient world the poor did not have kitchens in their tiny apartments and prepared their food on portable grills or ate out at a fast-food shop. . . . The privileged had the luxury of eating in their homes.”[7] Those not attached to a household suffered badly in times of famine, which we know historically came even to prosperous Roman Corinth.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 857.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 860–61.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 848.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 858–59.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 539.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 541.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 542.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:13–16 Using (what should be) common sense

1 Corinthians 11:13–16

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.

Ever hopeful that the Corinthians will do what is needed on their own, Paul puts the ball directly in their court (1 Cor. 11:13). By “the nature of things” (1 Cor. 11:14), Paul means the way things are.

Paul knew that Roman custom for men was short hair, and that long hair or long hair styled in some way (e.g. braiding) was considered effeminate. For example, David Garland informs us that the forum in Roman Corinth has statues of men with long hair as part of the “Façade of the Captives.” “Their long hair is intended to send the message that these captives were weak, soft, and effeminate.”[1]

Roman women usually had long hair, and it was often considered a symbol of the wife’s relationship to her husband. Accordingly, Garland summarizes, “Taking this cue from nature, men do not need a cover [since they have short hair]; women do [since they have long hair].”[2]

As a final argument, Paul says all the churches follow this standard, and so does he (1 Cor. 11:16).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 531.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 531.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:7–12 Shame and honor in assembled worship

1 Corinthians 11:7–12

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

As we begin today’s lesson, it will be helpful to remember that the context of these verses is the church in Roman Corinth gathered for worship. Perhaps they met in the home of one or more of their wealthy members or in several other locations. We can expect that some curious non-Christians were sometimes present, perhaps even someone who reported their activities elsewhere. We will see that God and the angels are part of worship as well.

As before, a lot of attention will be given to head coverings and their social and theological meaning. In the previous lesson (1 Cor. 11:1–6) we learned that men were not to wear a head covering, but women must wear one. These conditions were dictated by social propriety and to protect the reputation of the gospel in the community. In 1 Cor. 11:7–12, we learn that even deeper theological reasons exist and get deeper into the framework of shame and honor.

It is important to know what this passage does not mean, and David Garland sets us on the path: “The logic is not, ‘This man stands before God uncovered because of his spiritual subordination to Christ, so the woman should stand veiled because of her spiritual subordination to her husband,’ as [some] contend.”[1]

A common failing of Christians today is that we do not appreciate the importance of creation and its impact on our life in Christ. But Paul’s key point is that the woman reflects the glory of man, not of God.[2] The whole reason Paul offers in 1 Cor. 11:8–9 is the order of creation with man created first (Gen. 2:7) and the purpose of woman’s creation (Gen. 2:22) in that she was created for the man. Paul argues that the gender differences God established in creation have an effect on how corporate worship is carried out; in particular, cultural customs are used to symbolize that difference in a way that gives honor to God. Since man is “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7), his head must remain open to plain view. To do so honors God. The woman should cover her head (1 Cor. 11:6b) so as not to dishonor her head (i.e. the man, 1 Cor. 11:3). How would she dishonor the man? The surprising answer is that the woman dishonors the man by glorifying him (“woman is the glory of man” 1 Cor. 11:7) in a setting of corporate worship where only God is to be glorified/honored.

Perhaps we can better understand this reasoning by saying that in corporate worship the attention should be on honoring/glorifying God, but the beauty of women (by creation) is such that they attract attention belonging to God. When that happens, the shame attaches to their husband (her metaphorical head) or to the men gathered for worship. What can the woman do? She can behave and dress in a way that does not draw attention and symbolize such intent by wearing a head covering.[3] Symbols in our culture are different, but the principle stands.

The man and the woman are not taking their respective actions — men without head covering and women with one — for any personal advantage, as Anthony Thiselton points out: “’Paul’s main point is that man and woman are both the glory of another and therefore both have an obligation not to cause shame to their “heads.”’”[4]

The foregoing is difficult enough, and 1 Cor. 11:10 adds more mystery by mentioning angels. First, Thiselton argues that what we have here is a continuation of the issue of “assertive autonomy . . . versus self-control” that we have tracked earlier in the letter (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23).[5] This means the woman should use her freedom and authority in Christ for the good of others and especially for her metaphorical head; that behavior manifests self-control and love. As to the angels, Thiselton reminds us that both Jewish and Christian traditions teach us “that Christians worship the transcendent God of heaven in company with the heavenly host.”[6]

We began with the assumption that Paul had received a report that women might be asserting their freedom in Christ in a damaging way during corporate worship. Although he has focused a lot of attention on women and how they should use their freedom, he does not by any means back off of his assertion that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11). He adds an additional statement in verse 12 that shows how dependent man and woman are on each other. While Paul has said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), it is also true that creation order limits this new freedom, “because everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:12).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 523.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 837, quoting Judith Gundry-Volf.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 839.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 841.

Exposition of First Corinthians 11:3 — The meaning of Greek kephale (often translated “head”)

There is little doubt that 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is extremely tough to interpret. One piece of this complex passage is 1 Cor. 11:3, and, within that text, the meaning of the Greek noun kephale, usually translated “head.”

Starting in the 1990s, research on social conditions in the Roman empire during the first century began to shed significant light on many passages in First Corinthians.

To better understand 1 Cor. 11:3, check out this video :

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.


Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:2–6 Sending social cues to others

1 Corinthians 11:2–6

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.


The church has had two millennia to interpret 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, but has struggled to do so for lack of knowledge about social conditions in Roman Corinth. As a result, the passage has been understood using the social assumptions existing in the world of the interpreters, an approach with ruinous results. Since the Protestant Reformation, starting about 1517, the dominant view — based largely on medieval customs — has been that the biblical text centered on the subordination of women to men and the need to strictly regulate the participation of women in worship. That interpretation has recently been challenged.

The last twenty years have brought deeper understanding of conditions in Roman Corinth and the wider Roman Empire. This development has also enabled an improved understanding of the possible meanings for the Greek noun kephal?, meaning “head, source, preeminent, foremost.” This word occurs ten times in 1 Corinthians, and nine of those instances occur in verses 3–10; it is clearly a crucial word.

Before we begin explaining the passage, keep in mind that shame and honor were central to Greco-Roman culture. Personal appearance can affect shame or honor. In light of subjects in our passage, Anthony Thiselton reminds us that people make an intentional statement by their appearance: “Clothes and hair or beards play a role in a [system of symbols] which speak volumes about self-perceptions of gender identity, class identity, a sense of occasion, and respect or indifference toward the perception of others.”[1] Google the word “hippie” for an example of how this works.

In particular, during the first century in the Roman Empire, both men and women had to dress carefully or face consequences:

Certain male attire and hair-styles were deemed effeminate and overtly sexual, while appropriate head coverings for respectable Roman women served as protection of their dignity and status as women not to be “propositioned”. . . . “Respectable women did nothing to draw attention to themselves” . . . . A woman who went out . . . unveiled forfeited the protection of Roman law against possible attackers who were entitled to plead extenuating circumstances.”[2]

Other customs defy our expectations: “It was men, rather than women, on whom a woman’s clothing most reflected.”[3] So, if a woman dressed provocatively or wore her hair in an unusual style, it brought shame to her husband and perhaps to his patron — and in our case to Christ!

In the commentary which follows we will continue to stress the views of Anthony Thiselton for one major reason: he argues that the same themes that Paul has developed earlier in 1 Corinthians are applied in 1 Cor. 11:2–16. Paul will address both “rights” of female freedom and “rights” to male headship in the context of public worship. Thiselton explains that Paul once again calls for love to counterbalance rights for the good of the church and the spread of the gospel.[4]

What is often ignored in 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is the relationship between God and Christ. In particular, Thiselton highlights the idea that “’the relationship between man and woman is thus in some sense paralleled by that between God and Christ.’”[5] Clarifying this, he says, “The God-Christ relation has nothing to do with self-glory or the affirmation of the self at the expense of the other . . . it is not an involuntary or imposed ‘subordination,’ but an example of shared love.”

Sending social cues to others

The fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that his interests determine how we should live is crucial in understanding our text. It is also vital to remember what Paul taught about equality in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We have every reason to think Paul taught this in Roman Corinth as well. The women heard his voice and tried to adjust.

Thiselton relates that Paul seems to have received a disturbing report about women’s conduct during worship: “’Some of the women, acting in the freedom and power of the Spirit, have begun to remove their head coverings and loose their hair when they prophesy as a sign of their freedom in Christ.’ In other words, they want to give [social] expression to their freedom and equality.”[6] Even if Paul did not receive such a report, this is the kind of situation he is addressing. Like the issue of eating meat offered to idols, this new issue plays freedom in Christ against the effect on others, both others inside the church and outside. Which side will Paul take? Answer: the very same side he took before — freedom in Christ must be limited by love for others and concern for the reputation of the gospel.

Paul begins by praising the fidelity of the Corinthian church to the traditions he had taught them (1 Cor. 11:2), but he immediately begins a theological argument designed to deal with the issues described above (1 Cor. 11:3). Here in verse three we encounter that troublesome Greek noun kephal?, translated “head” by the NIV. Thiselton criticizes this safe choice as misleading us: “The problem about translating kephal? as head in 1 Cor. 11:3 remains that . . . in English-speaking contexts ‘the head’ almost always implies leadership and authority, as in headmaster, Head of School, Head of Department, head steward. . . . The equivalent assumption in first-century [Corinthian] contexts would be to [understand] head not as authoritative leader in charge, but as one who is ‘prominent, foremost, uppermost, preeminent.’”[7] We cannot make the mistake, made for centuries, of understanding this word according to our cultural context or any recent one; we must understand it first in Roman Corinth! Then we will better understand how to apply it today.

So, using this Corinthian point of view, Thiselton translates verse 3 like this: “However, I want you to understand that while Christ is preeminent for man, man is foremost in relation to  woman, and God is preeminent in relation to Christ.” You may think that nothing much has changed, but consider how shame and honor modify the picture. Christ behaved in such a way as to bring honor — or its equivalent, glory — to the preeminent One, God. Man is responsible to behave in a way that brings honor to his Lord, the preeminent Christ. The woman is to behave in a way that brings honor to man, the foremost of the two genders by creation (see verse 8).

How do we know that we are on the right track? Perhaps the biggest clue is the frequent mention of “dishonor” or “disgrace” (verses 4, 5, 6) — the equivalent of shame — in the immediate context. In addition, Paul soon switches to discussing “glory” (verses 7 below and 10:31 above), since that is the equivalent of honor.

Verses 4–5 will help take the next step in the argument. Obviously, Paul deals first with men and then with women on the subject of head covering. We now know that Roman customs dominated Roman Corinth, and one Roman custom was for men to worship with head coverings. Usually, the men in Corinth would pull the top of their toga up over their heads to form a hood when making a sacrifice in an idol temple. Paul forbids the Christian men to follow this practice. David Garland says that following the pagan practice would shame Christ, who is the metaphorical head of the Christian man.[8]

Did you catch the subtle shift related to “head”? Verse 4 says, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his [anatomical] head covered dishonors his [figurative] head [i.e. Christ].” As Christians, all of us are bound within a set of relationships. Our actions reflect not only on us but on our mate, our church and our Lord, and those actions bring either honor or shame!

Paul next deals with the women in verse 5. Since a woman whose head was uncovered would be saying non-verbally that she was sexually available or a prostitute, neither of which should be said during worship of God, she would dishonor her head. Verse 5a, accordingly, implies, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her [anatomical] head uncovered dishonors her [figurative] head [her husband, the men of the church, and ultimately Christ].” Garland agrees when he says, “As ‘Christ’ is the implied referent for ‘head’ in 11:4, so the ‘man’ is the most likely referent for ‘head’ in 11:5.”[9]

What about the reference in verse 5b about “having her head shaved”? There are many possibilities — none of them favorable for the woman — but Thiselton says, “[Being shaved] may allude to the status of one convicted of prostitution . . . but for the most part the loss of a woman’s hair is taken to denote the loss of her femininity.”[10] Surprisingly, both of these ideas survive to modern times. After the Nazis were thrown out of France during World War II, the loyal women of France cut the hair off all the women who had collaborated with the Nazis — and often shaved their heads — to shame them in public. Verse 6 simply repeats the ideas of verse 5 by adding some rhetorical force, perhaps suggesting the behavior of the women was more in need of correction than that of the men.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 800–01.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 801.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 802.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 799.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 804, quoting M. Hooker.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 830, following R.B. Hays, First Corinthians, 183.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 817.

[8] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 517.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 522.

[10] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 829.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, An example to follow

1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

These concluding verses may be considered from different viewpoints. If we think about freedom or rights, Paul says positively that we should exercise that freedom to bring honor to God (1 Cor. 10:31) and negatively that we must not present any cause of stumbling, not cause any damage to the salvation of anyone (1 Cor. 10:32). These considerations limit the expression of freedom.

If we think in terms of loving others instead of seeking our own interests, verse 31 tells us that our loving actions glorify God. Any selfish action that causes others to stumble goes against Christ’s command for us and so must be totally avoided (verse 32). Gordon Fee denies that this has anything to do with hurt feelings. Instead we must not “behave in such a way as to prevent someone else from hearing the gospel, or to alienate someone who is already a brother or sister.”[1]

Since 1 Cor. 10:32 separately lists the “Jews” and “the church of God,” Anthony Thiselton observes, “The phrase ‘the church of God’ in this context calls attention … to a discontinuity, as if to imply that ‘the people of God’ are partly redefined.”[2] The church’s identity lies in union with Christ, not in Old Testament Israel. That is why we learn from the example of Israel (1 Cor. 10:6), but we do not keep the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:21), the old covenant.

Most English versions invite difficulty in verse 33 by using the verb “please.” NIV has Paul saying, “I try to please everyone” (1 Cor. 10:33), describing behavior that was not in Paul’s style (Gal. 1:10) and using a phrase that today is too easily misunderstood. Paul was not a people-pleaser. The standard Greek lexicon discusses this verb (Greek ἀρέσκω) by explaining that the Mediterranean world was very conscious of mutual obligations and valued people who tried to accommodate all interests.[3] For this reason, Thiselton translates 1 Cor. 10:33 this way: “In just the same way, I on my part strive to take account of all the interests of everyone, not seeking advantage of my own, but the good of the many, with a view to their salvation.”[4]

Paul’s conclusion needs no explanation: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Copyright © 2013. Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 489.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 795.

[3] BDAG-3, ἀρέσκω, accommodate, q.v.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.


Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:27–30 Will “the strong” risk shame?

1 Corinthians 10:27–30

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

In keeping with Paul’s long-running theme in chapters 8–10, the controlling verse for what follows is verse 24: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Though the section from verse 25 through verse 31 is complex due to “if” statements and rhetorical questions, Kenneth Bailey shows that it has a simple underlying structure:

Eat (verses 25–26) — shopping in the meat market; all belongs to God

Eat (verse 27) — dining with unbelievers and believers

Do Not Eat (verses 28–29a) — food is declared dedicated to an idol

Eat (verse 29b–30) — eating freely, without regard for others, defames you

Eat (verse 31) — eating in a way that honors God[1]

We have already addressed 1 Cor. 10:25–26 in the previous lesson. Paul switches to another common situation, being invited to a meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27). There again the Corinthian believers may eat whatever is offered without raising questions; issues of conscience are not involved. Garland explains, “In this instance, Paul makes a concession to the reality that social connections were absolutely necessary to survive in the ancient world. In his day, intrepid mavericks could not strike off on their own and expect to manage. One needed relationships with others for services and protection.”[2]

In 1 Cor. 10:28, there are various possible scenarios about the possible identity of “someone” who says, “This has been offered in sacrifice [to an idol],” but choosing among them does not really matter. As soon as the statement is made, the invited Christian cannot eat, both as a matter of covenant loyalty to Christ and as a consistent witness to others. His choice is determined for the good of the others, or, you might say, for the good of the gospel. The focus on others is made explicit in verse 29a: “I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.”

The interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:29b–30 is disputed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman world was far more focused on public honor and shame than we are today. We next present Thiselton’s views[3] in simplified form. Paul has dealt with some common situations in the previous verses. but now he imagines “the strong” to be dissatisfied with having their freedom limited by the opinions of others. After all, “the strong” know that idols are nothing and feel they should be able to eat meat in a neutral setting, such as a home, even though someone says, “This has been offered in sacrifice.” With this background in mind, “the strong” are saying inwardly, “Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b). Paul intends this rhetorical question to force “the strong” to rethink their position in light of what comes next.

Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 10:30 reveals the thorns hidden in the green grass of “the strong’s” freedom-from-concern-for-others: “Well, if I take part in a meal with thanksgiving, why should I suffer defamation of character over that for which I, at least, give thanks?”[4] When “the strong” plunge ahead and eat the meat sacrificed in the idol temple, both unbelievers and other Christians will shame them with their inconsistent behavior; they claim faith in Christ but then behave with disloyalty in eating food sacrificed to an idol. As a result, “the strong” will experience “defamation of character” when others revile them.

For these reasons, Thiselton sums up in the following way:

Paul’s meaning on this basis would be: what would be the advantage of my exercising my freedom if I thereby suffer defamation of character? If it genuinely does not matter whether I eat or not, why choose the path that raises unnecessary difficulties? What is the point of “freedom” if I cannot choose not to cause problems?[5]

In our next post, Paul will provide a fitting conclusion to the argument he has developed in chapters 8–10. You can be certain it will involve the Man for Others, Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 283–284.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 493.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 790–92.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 790.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:23–26 Getting things in perspective

1 Corinthians 10:23–26

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

Because covenant loyalty to Christ is so critical to the believers in Roman Corinth, Paul wraps up his long argument (chapters 8–10) about Corinthian participation in contexts involving idols — and often sexuality as well — by talking about guiding principles. Garland ably summarizes: “He gives the go-ahead on everything that is beyond an idol’s orbit. It is not permanently poisoned. . . . He clarifies that food is food, and it is permissible to eat unless it is specifically identified as idol food, which puts it in a special category that is always forbidden to Christians.”[1] Undergirding these practical principles is the self-sacrificing love exhibited by Christ and expected of all his own.

Paul returns to the theme of personal freedom ( as in 1 Cor. 6:12) by quoting the Corinthian slogan “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 10:23). While many Americans like the sound of that slogan, Paul considers it fatally deficient because it shows no consideration of what is “beneficial” and “constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23). Verse 24 puts this deficiency beyond question. Paul says our freedom should be used in the service of others. Paul gave his own example of surrendering his rights in chapter 9, and he is imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Put in other words, Christian freedom should lead to love for others. When you think about it, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice was an act of love he freely chose.

The word “good” in the NIV translation of verse 24 — and in most other English versions —does not represent a Greek word; it is an inference. The New Revised Standard Version tries a different idea: “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (emphasis added). Why would Paul leave the word out? Because he wanted to direct attention to the other person, not to the nuances of their condition. Garland adds, “Seeking the advantage of others rather than one’s own runs counter to the ‘me first’ sentiment that ruled the Corinthian culture.”[2]

Though it should not be necessary to remind Christians of the fact, when Paul gives commands about seeking the good (or advantage or well-being) of others, he is speaking on behalf of Christ! That is what it means to be an apostle of Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1). As we learned in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul is speaking to Corinthian Christians and all who trust in Jesus.

The “meat market” in Roman Corinth was something like a specialty butcher shop, and most of the meat there had likely come from one of the idol temples. Paul tells the Corinthians not to make an investigation at the meant market; just buy the meat and eat it (1 Cor. 10:25). This is not a question of loyalty to Christ, as it would be for meat eaten within an idol temple.

Paul implies but does not say that the demons behind Corinth’s idols do not have universal jurisdiction. What Paul does say is: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Cor. 10:26, quoting Psalm 24:1). Garland explains, “Idol food loses its character as idol food as soon as it leaves the idol’s arena and the idolater’s purpose.”[3] That being so, the Corinthian Christians needed to focus on the rule of God and the grace of his provision rather than being obsessed with idols. We would do well to focus on the same things.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 486.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 489.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 492.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 Two kinds of partnership

1 Corinthians 10:14–22

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: “Paul’s insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.”[1]

The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.

To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8–10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these “sensible people” to judge his words carefully.

Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16  the NIV uses the English word “participation” to translate the Greek noun koin?nia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say “communal participation” and explains that here “it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.”[2] That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koin?nia.

Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The “one loaf” is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said ,”Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, “we, who are many, are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.

Even though the final paragraph (verses 18–22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koin?nia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12–15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Paul’s question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.

Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!

Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 472.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 761.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:7–13 Paul’s cautionary examples of craving

1 Corinthians 10:7–13

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, “Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.”[1] That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.

First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry “can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshipping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the ‘censor’ [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.”[2]

So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: “’[Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.’ Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.”[3] Religious prostitution abounded.

As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahweh’s command (Exod. 32:27–28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Paul’s statement “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1–9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.

Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.

Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4–9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4–5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.

Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.

Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of God’s neglect.[4] The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.

Garland says that Paul may single out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts.[5] We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus “Lord” for nothing!

Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: “Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).”[6] This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up “strong.”

 God’s grace in temptation (craving)

Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.

In Roman Corinth “the strong” paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (“I have the right to do anything,” 1 Cor. 6:12; “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow “the strong” in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.

Thiselton forcefully states, “Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.”[7] Paul’s answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: “As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1–19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.”[8]

Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, “Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.”[9] But Garland cautions, “God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.”[10]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 459.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748–49.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.