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 1 Corinthians 9:21–23 The best retirement plan of all

1 Corinthians 9:21–23

21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In verses 21–23, Paul continues to explain his statement “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19). The phrase “those not having the law” (1 Cor. 9:21) is clearly a reference to the Gentiles, who do not live by the Law of Moses or the interpretation of those laws by Judaism.

Even though Paul is a Jew by birth, he has already said, “I myself am not under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). While discussing his approach to the Gentiles, Paul adds to his previous statement by saying, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21). David Garland helps us see this change in Paul as a matter of identity when he says: “[Paul] is speaking theologically about living under grace. Previously, his self-understanding as a Jew was bound up with his obedience to the law (cf. Phil. 3:6); now it is bound up with his relationship to Christ (Phil. 3:7–11).”[1]

Gordon Fee adds some new elements when he says, “For Paul the language ‘being under (or “keeping”) the law’ has to do with being Jewish in a national-cultural-religious sense; but as a new man in Christ he also expects the Spirit to empower him (as well as all of God’s new people) to live out the ethics of the new age.”[2] For another glimpse of the phrase “the law of Christ,” Paul says in Galatians, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We who follow Jesus are to obey the “law of Christ.” As to what that means, we can look at what the apostles understood Jesus to mean as recorded in the New Testament.

In regard to the identity of “the weak,” we must exercise due diligence. In 1 Cor. 8:7–10, the phrase “the weak” refers to believers who are overly conscientious or believers who feel insecure about the exercise of their freedom in Christ. In the context of chapter 8, Paul identifies the weak as believers in 1 Cor. 8:12. However, in chapter 9, Paul seeks to save those he describes as “the weak,” and that means they are unbelievers. Anthony Thiselton describes the weak in chapter 9 by saying, “In this context the weak may mean those whose options for life and conduct were severely restricted because of their dependence on the wishes of patrons, employers, or slave owners” (emphasis his).[3] Garland agrees by saying, “The ‘weak’ in this verse represent non-Christians whom he seeks to win for the Lord.”[4]

The second half of verse 22 is famous and widely quoted. What did Paul originally mean by it? Garland says that “he is ‘explaining how in his apostleship the principle of [self-denial] — in short, the principle of the cross — operates in his own experience.’”[5] Paul could have lived in one of the finest houses in Corinth, could have been revered as one its greatest orators, and could have enjoyed its finest banquets — although held in idol temples — every night of the week. All this he could have done while being financially supported by the Corinthian believers. But, “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), he made sure that even the weak were not left out by working among them as a man of the cross.

Given the choice between pleasure and profit now in the ranks of the upwardly mobile Corinthians or honor and glory later with Christ in the age to come, Paul chose to share in the blessings of the gospel. He shows us the path we must choose to take.

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) 431.

[2] 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) 430.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 705.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 434.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 435, quoting D.A. Carson.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:1–7 Paul is entitled to all apostolic rights

1 Corinthians 9:1–7

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.

4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?

Paul ended chapter 8 by explaining the harm that can be done to a weaker believer through the thoughtless exercise by some Corinthian believers of their full rights in Christ. Chapter 8 ends with this ringing statement: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” So, Paul was willing to give up his right to eat meat associated with idol worship for the good of others in the church.

Paul’s theme does not change when we enter chapter 9. But you might think otherwise when you read the chapter heading provided by the NIV’s editorial team: “Paul’s Rights as an Apostle.” The NET Bible is almost identical with the heading “The Rights of an Apostle.” But the editors of the ESV get it right when they provide the heading “Paul Surrenders His Rights.”

Anthony Thiselton again lights the way by saying, “The argument about ‘rights’ and ‘apostleship’ simply runs parallel to Corinthian arguments about their ‘right to choose’ (cf. 6:12; 8:1–13; 10:23) in order first to establish the validity of the ‘right’ so that Paul, in turn, may choose to relinquish it where it threatens to harm the welfare of others, or of the church as a whole.”[1] Paul asserts his rights (1 Cor. 9:1–12a) only to model giving them up for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12b–27). In this way, Paul incarnates the gospel — a theme we will return to later.

All of the rhetorical questions in verses 1–2 are structured in Greek to signal an emphatic, affirmative answer. Just imagine, no one in Corinth can claim to be an apostle, but Paul can! No one in Corinth has seen the resurrected Christ, but Paul has! If Paul has a share in the freedom bought by Christ on the cross, then surely his freedom surpasses them all. The living proof of his apostleship is the faith of the Corinthians themselves!

David Garland points out: “Paul casts his remarks as a fictitious defense because of the delicacy required when discussing oneself. . . . Sounding boastful is avoided if the speaker shows that he (1) is offering a defense against charges (apologia, [9:4]), (2) does so because of compulsion (anank?, 9:16–18), and (3) demonstrates that it is included for the good of others to admonish or instruct them (9:24–27).”[2] This helps explain the structure of chapter 9. Paul implements step one with presentation of his “defense,” starting in 1 Cor. 9:3.

To be concrete about some of his own rights, Paul uses rhetorical questions to assert two of his specific rights: “the right to food and drink” (1 Cor. 9:4), meaning financial support from the Corinthians for his ministry to them, and the right to have a wife accompany him (1 Cor. 9:5). If Paul had a wife, she would also have been entitled to support just as in the case of “the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter]” (1 Cor. 9:5).

The three rhetorical questions in verse 7 all expect the answer “No one!” Paul uses three metaphors: the soldier, the vine grower, and the shepherd. Paul appeals to common knowledge that each one has the right to be sustained by others or by their property.

In the next lesson, Paul will continue his argument by further strengthening his right to financial support from the Corinthians. Then he will explain why he waived that right for the sake of the gospel.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. 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) 661–662.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 406, citing B. Dodd.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:17–31 Our status is in Christ

1 Corinthians 7:17–31

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

As part of his instruction about marriage and divorce, Paul has said, “God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). While his primary focus has been on strengthening the Corinthians’ understanding of marriage in the context of their Christian faith, Paul takes this occasion to give some other examples that involve maintaining peace: the conditions of circumcision or slavery.

The main principle Paul stresses may be found in verses 17, 20 and 24. Gordon Fee summarizes, “They should remain in whatever social setting they were at the time of their call since God’s call to be in Christ (cf. 1:9) transcends such settings so as to make them essentially irrelevant.”[1] Anthony Thiselton makes a solid, practical point when he says, “A Christian does not have to seek ‘the right situation’ in order to enjoy Christian freedom or to serve God’s call effectively.”[2]

For a new Christian to think they should divorce their spouse to serve God better makes about as much sense as the man who says that he will first clean up his life and then trust in Christ. Neither idea has any merit! Similarly, it makes no sense for every enthusiastic new Christian to think that God intends for them to throw everything aside and go to seminary or the mission field.

Unless you understand how Paul thinks of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 7:19 can sound paradoxical or even contradictory. Circumcision was a central requirement for those under the old covenant, but the coming of Christ, and particularly his crucifixion, replaced the old covenant with the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20). For those who follow Jesus, everything revolves around the relationship to him and thus to what Jesus required through his own teachings and those of his apostles. When we call Jesus “Lord,” we are saying that he is God! When Paul says, “Keeping God’s commands is what counts,” he is speaking of Christ’s commands, not those contained in the Old Testament law. This is verified in 1 Cor. 9:21 where Paul says, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law” (emphasis added). A great deal more about the Christian’s relationship to the law may be found at this link:  http://wp.me/p1mupH-m. See also Galatians 6:2.

In interpreting the Bible we must also be sensitive to the fact that the Scriptures may set out a seemingly absolute principle and then follow it with one or more exceptions. Verse 20 seems quite clear and comprehensive about remaining in the situation of your calling, but in verse 21 Paul says that a person called to Christ as a slave should embrace their freedom if they are freed.

Roman slavery was no walk in the park, but it cannot be understood through the lens of former slavery in America.[3] Further, in addressing the status of slaves and freedmen (1 Cor. 7:21–23), Paul’s main objective is to warn the Corinthians against their excessive preoccupation with status-betterment, a mad scramble in achievement-oriented Corinth. Fee says, “Status of any kind is ultimately irrelevant with God.”[4]

To understand 1 Cor. 7:22a (“For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person”), consider how David Garland’s analysis of a Roman freedman’s obligations to the one who freed him compare to our relationship to Christ, who freed us:

“The freedman owed the former master lifelong obsequium [a Latin term meaning…] (eagerness to serve respectfully); a certain number of days’ work per week, month, or year (operae, enforceable by civil action); gifts (munera); and moral duty (officium). In return, the master, now the freedman’s patron, looks after the welfare of the freedman. As Christ’s freedman, the former slave takes on the name of the master, is directed by him, and owes him allegiance.”[5]

When we trust in Christ, we become members of Christ’s household. Thiselton says, “The slave’s real status is determined by his or her placement in a different household entirely: the household of Christ. . . . To be a slave of Christ (rather than of another) outranks any other status in any other household.”[6] That is exactly our status because “you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 7:23; 1 Cor. 6:20), and the price was the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. Again we return to a focus on Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

The remainder of this section, verses 25–31, will be discussed in a brief style.

  • The “virgins” (1 Cor. 7:25) are probably unmarried yet betrothed women who would be uncertain about whether keeping the same status in which they were called (1 Cor. 7:24) might be interpreted to mean they should not marry.
  • The nature of the “present crisis” (1 Cor. 7:26)is not known, but a likely candidate would seem to be a widespread grain shortage in A.D. 51 that was so serious as to cause Rome to place one man in charge of Corinth’s supply.[7] To prevent grain shortages in Rome, the provinces were often exploited with widespread hunger as the result elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important sentence in verses 25–31 is this: “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Fee rightly says: “In Paul’s view the End has already begun [with the crucifixion of Christ]; the form of this world is already passing away. Christians do not thereby abandon the world; they are simply not to let this age dictate their present existence.”[8]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. 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) 307.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 545.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 319; Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 556.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 322.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 314.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 560–561.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 573.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 330.