Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36–40 The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36–40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: “To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Paul’s arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:“[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.”[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be “spiritual”; those who have the Spirit will agree that Paul’s commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: “They will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, “It means that the Lord will say to such persons, ‘I do not know you’ (Matt. 7:22–23).”[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” The phrase translated “orderly way” has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright © 2014 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) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21–26

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: “’Eye’ and ‘head’ are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ represent the laboring class or slaves. ‘Eyes’ and ‘heads’ in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.”[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really don’t need the other, lesser people.

With the words “on the contrary” (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be “less endowed with power and status than others” (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are “less honorable” and “unpresentable” by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are “presentable” and “need no special treatment” (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by “giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) “that there should be no division in the body” and (2) “that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” God’s stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of “the strong.”

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: “The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.”[4]

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) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] 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) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:30–34 A supper about unity

1 Corinthians 11:30–34

30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

It is important to understand that communion is nothing to treat lightly. We are told why in 1 Cor. 11:30–32. Paul then summarizes his advice about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:33–34). Keep in mind that Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ and, therefore, speaks for Christ. Paul’s “advice” is more than advice just as the Lord’s Supper is more than just supper. The wise will listen and obey, and the others will continue to get sick or die!

Though one authority believes “weak,” “sick” and “fallen asleep” ( 1 Cor. 11:30) are figurative terms describing the spiritual condition of Corinthian Christians, most others believe physical condition is in view. Gordon Fee says that the Spirit has revealed to Paul that abuse of the “have nots” during the Lord’s Supper is the cause for the weakness, sickness and death, but he adds that this does not mean that all Christian illness and death are caused that way.[1] Note that “fallen asleep” is the standard way the New Testament speaks about death among Christians; showing that death is not the same for them as for others (1 Thess. 4:13–15; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51).

Verse 31 is what is called a “contrary to fact” condition or even “the unreal condition.” Had the Corinthians been discerning their disrespectful attitude (toward Christ) and unloving conduct (toward others) — but they were not — then they would not now be experiencing the incidents of weakness, sickness and even death, all of which are happening.

Being “more discerning with regard to ourselves” (verse 31) means having both a serious and repentant awareness of any sin in our lives as well as a consistent commitment to our new identity in Christ. Some of the Corinthians seem to have been more interested in what the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Anthony Thiselton summarizes Bonhoeffer this way: “Cheap grace is ‘the preaching of forgiveness without repentance . . . communion without confession, grace without discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ.’”[2] Some Corinthians did not want to share food with their hungry brethren in the faith, did not want to worship with lower classes, and did not want to give up their pagan culture, including participation in idol banquets and sexually immoral behavior.

As members of God’s family, we can expect his discipline (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:1–13) when we stray from the way of Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins. Thiselton’s remarks about this discipline reveal its purpose: “It should not give rise to doubt of salvation or be endured merely with resignation. It plays a positive role in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in suffering as well as glory.”[3] The alternative to receiving the discipline that all believers get is that a person may be finally judged with the world, and no one wants that!

Paul’s command in 1 Cor. 11:33 for all to eat together has an entirely theological purpose. Their Christian identity makes them one in Christ, and they cannot be divided in their common worship. Similarly, 1 Cor. 11:34 is not mainly about food. Garland explains: “If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful, it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.”[4]

Many of the lower classes might not be able to meet as early as the more socially advantaged. “The strong” must wait to share with the others. Jesus could have eaten the finest food on earth every night, but he and the twelve ate together.

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) 565.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 898.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 898.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 555.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:23–29 Proclaim the Lord’s death, not division

1 Corinthians 11:23–29

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Because Christian churches so frequently use the words contained in 1 Cor. 11:23–25 for conducting communion services, it is almost certain that you will initially believe that these words were originally given by Paul primarily for that purpose. But Paul had previously taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper — when he spread the gospel in Corinth — and was here seeking to correct abuses that had developed. Recall that Paul has just told the Corinthian Christians that the divided and class-conscious meal they are customarily having cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20).

Note carefully that verse 23 begins with the word “for” — with the sense “because” — to signal the fact that the problems Paul has just spoken about will become obvious in light of what he is about to tell them. David Garland explains Paul’s intent by saying: “He does not intend to teach the Corinthians something new about the Lord’s Supper or to correct their theology of the Lord’s Supper. He cites it only to contrast what Jesus did at the Last Supper with what they are doing at their supper.”[1] (emphasis added).

English versions of the Bible, including the NIV, speak of “the night he [Jesus] was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23), but increasingly scholars see this verb to be bearing its much more common meaning “hand over.”[2] Consider the italicized verbs in the verse: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread ….” (1 Cor. 11:23). The two italicized verbs are forms of the same Greek verb. Second, the latter usage of the verb is in the Greek imperfect tense, which generally means the action took place over a period of time in the past; Jesus was “betrayed” only once,” but he was “handed over” again and again during his trial and crucifixion including the moment when he voluntarily gave up his spirit in death for the sake of others (John 19:30).

You may be asking why this matters. Paul is not seeking to emphasize the sin of Judas, but instead to stress the sacrificial giving of the Father and the Son. Anthony Thiselton explains that the context in both the Gospels and here is that Jesus was “handed over” to death by God for our sins; God “gave him up” for all of us (Rom. 8:32).[3]

The sharing of the bread and the cup during the Last Supper involved everyone. Even though Peter James and John were arguably the closest to Jesus, they got the same bread and cup that everyone else got. As we have seen, that is not how things were done in Roman Corinth when the believers gathered to share the Lord’s Supper.

Garland explains how Paul’s conscious imitation of the Lord’s Supper allows him to make his point forcefully: “They are to imitate Christ’s example of self-giving. Everything they do in their meal should accord with his self-sacrifice for others. . . . Chrysostom [an early church father] . . . grasps the essence of Paul’s admonition: ‘He [Christ] gave his body equally, but you do not give so much as the common bread equally.’”[4]

“The new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25) looks back to the blood of the sacrifices which Moses sprinkled on the people to establish the old covenant with Israel. The blood Jesus shed in his death for us established the new covenant God had promised through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31–34); this new covenant is discussed more thoroughly in Hebrews 8 and 10.

When Jesus said we should eat the bread and drink the cup ”in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25), he is not speaking about remembering in the mere sense of mental recollection. To remember in the biblical sense includes acting on what you remember, and in this context it means to behave as Jesus did — to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Thiselton explains, “Remembrance of Christ and Christ’s death retains the aspect of self-involving remembering in gratitude, worship, trust, acknowledgement and obedience.[5]

Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper has one purpose: “to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Do you see the warning? The one who filled this special meal with meaning by his death is coming back! When he does, every Corinthian — high and low — will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So, verse 26 gives a transition to verses 27–29, where judgment is the prevailing theme.

Paul does not say specifically what it takes to participate in the Lord’s Supper in “an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27). But by this point that explanation is not necessary. Garland points out the sea change in tone: “They cannot treat this meal as a pleasant gathering of in-group friends . . . . It is fraught with spiritual peril if they treat the meal or those gathered for it in a cavalier manner. They will incur God’s judgment.”[6]

The NIV has made a concerted effort to be gender-inclusive, and has generally succeeded, but not in verse 28. Paul uses singular nouns and verbs here to stress individual responsibility for self-examination. The Common English Bible does a good with “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (1 Cor. 11:28, CEB). No one else can do this for you; you have to do it yourself! The verb Paul uses places emphasis on the result of the self-examination; did it affirm the genuineness of your faith or not?

Some people go through life “playing the game,” whether at work or in a social setting. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, each of us must come to it with an attitude of humility and an awareness that we are dealing with Christ, not just some religious ritual. The phrase “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) — NIV adds the words “of Christ” to the phrase to point the reader toward an interpretation — contains a Greek verb which means “to make a distinction.”[7] Thiselton says the distinction believers must make is to “be mindful of the uniqueness of Christ, who is separated from others in the sense of giving himself for others in sheer grace.”[8]

Merely to go through the motions of communion is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29). Tomorrow we will see just how far that judgment may go.

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



[1] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545.

[2] BDAG-3, paradid?mi, hand over, q.v.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 869.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 880

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 550.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 892.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 893.

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.

Floor_mosaic_from_Roman_villa_in_Corinth

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.