What does 1 Corinthians 11 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul tackles two issues that needed correction in the Corinthian church: head coverings for women and how to observe the Lord's Supper together. Paul begins by praising the Corinthian believers for remembering his teaching and maintaining the traditions he taught them when he lived among them (1 Corinthians 11:1–2).

What he addresses in this chapter, though, are two traditions about which he has heard negative reports. These are teachings the believers in Corinth were not maintaining well. The first had to do with head coverings for women who were praying and prophesying in the public worship gatherings.

Apparently, nearly all women wore head coverings in public during this era. This included Jewish, pagan, and Christian women. Women seen without head coverings may have been considered morally loose or sexually available. This was a matter of cultural assumptions; people of Paul's era would have reacted to a woman with an uncovered head much the same way modern people might to a woman wearing extremely revealing clothes. Paul received a report that some of the women in the Corinthian church were not wearing head coverings while praying or prophesying during their gatherings.

To address this, Paul builds a connection between what men and women do with their actual heads and those who are their metaphorical "heads" or representatives. This parallels the cultural concepts of what a woman's un-covered head meant to the society of the ancient world. He writes that Christ is the head of every man, husbands are the head of their wives, and God is the head of Christ. Paul seems less interested in talking about the authority of these "heads" than about what each of us can do to honor or shame them. A man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, who is Christ. Paul may have had in mind the Roman practice of men pulling a part of their robes over their head during worship of their gods. Christian men must not do the same (1 Corinthians 11:3–4).

Women, on the other hand, dishonor their head, or husband, by praying or prophesying in the worship service with their own head uncovered. The normal covering may have involved a hood built into a woman's robe or a type of veil. Perhaps these Christian women felt their freedom in Christ entitled them to worship without their heads covered. They might have seen the worship meeting as a private space, so they didn't need to treat church gatherings as public events. They might even have been deliberately countering the expectations of that culture. We don't know. Paul insisted they must keep their head coverings on (1 Corinthians 11:5–6).

Man should not cover his head because he is the glory of God, Paul wrote. Woman—or wives—are the glory of man—or husbands—and so they should cover their heads to keep that glory for them alone. The principle here, again, is parallel to the idea of someone wearing sexually-suggestive clothing in a modern setting. Such style sends signals which conflict with the purpose of the worship service. This restriction—so far as literal head coverings go—is unique to cultures where head covering is relevant. These words do not imply that all modern women are obligated to cover their heads. Rather, all believers—male and female—are to apply principles of modesty and common sense in their appearance (1 Corinthians 11:7–16).

The second issue Paul addresses is the Corinthian practice of communion. In short, it was a disaster. The church would gather together, with each person bringing his or her own food and eating it as soon as they arrived. The wealthy would overeat, with some getting drunk. The poor would look on, hungry and feeling humiliated. Rather than treating it as a solemn, reflective, unifying time, the Corinthians were using the Lord's Supper as a party. Paul expresses his shock with a phrase most commonly translated into English as "What?!" (1 Corinthians 11:17–22)

Paul then explains his understanding of communion, based on knowledge he claims to have "from the Lord." Many interpreters suggest Paul to mean he obtained this information through a direct revelation from Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

Scripture then warns the Corinthians that consequences for taking part in the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner are incredibly high. To eat the bread that represents Christ's body and drink the cup that represents His blood without first examining oneself for sinful attitudes toward Christ and other people invites God's judgment. Those who approach the Lord's Supper should not treat it like any other meal. It's a time for sober reflection on Christ's sacrifice for our sin. It's also an opportunity to be unified as the body of Christ, the church, while taking in the broken body of Christ, the bread, together (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

God's judgment for failing to do this is severe, Paul warns. Some of the Corinthians were weak and sick because of this. Others had already died. God's judgment of Christians does not bring loss of salvation. Instead, it is the loving discipline of the Father for His children. The better approach is to treat the Lord's Supper with patience and reflection, "wait[ing] for one another" in a spirit of unity (1 Corinthians 11:30–34).
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 10:23—11:1 shows that merely asking, ''Is this lawful?'' is the wrong question for Christians. Instead, we must continue by asking, ''Will this glorify God?'' and ''Will this build up our neighbors?'' Paul instructs them to act on this by refusing to eat meat they know has been offered to an idol. The reason is to avoid causing anyone to think Christians approve of idol worship in any way. They are free, though, to eat any meat they don't know to have been offered to an idol, with a clear conscience, and with thanks to God. The key message of this passage is that our intent, and the effects of our actions on others, are more important than the physical things involved.
First Corinthians 11:2–16 describes Paul's correction of an inappropriate practice of some women in the Corinthian church. Contrary to social norms of that era, they were not wearing head coverings when praying or prophesying before the church. Paul insists that both women and men consider what their chosen appearance implies about their relationship with God. Cultural details may vary, but the principle does not: Christian men and women ought to be ''respectable'' in their manners and dress. In parallel, this teaching also touches on the concept of spiritual leadership.
First Corinthians 11:17–34 contains Paul's rebuke of the church in Corinth for their application of the Lord's Supper. They had turned it into a gathering at which the wealthy ate and drank too much, leaving the poorer Christians hungry and humiliated. Paul warns that communion should be a time of sober self-reflection about our sin and Christ's sacrifice, as well as a time to unite the body of Christ, the church, while taking in representations of the blood and body of Christ. Some in Corinth were sick and others had died as part of God's judgment for participating in communion in an unworthy manner.
Chapter Summary:
Paul confronts two issues the church in Corinth was failing to practice correctly. First, some women were not wearing head coverings while praying or prophesying in their meetings. Paul insisted they must do so, and that men must not, based on mankind's relationship to God and the social implications of that covering. Second, Paul describes the reasons for observing the Lord's Supper and how it should be done. The Corinthian Christians had brought God's judgment on themselves for practicing communion in a way which dishonored Christ's sacrifice for sin and humiliated the poor among them.
Chapter Context:
After concluding his teaching on meat offered to idols, Paul turns to two issues the church in Corinth was getting wrong. The first was head coverings when praying or prophesying in their meetings. Differences between men and women in that regard are because of both spiritual and social reasons. Paul also corrects the disastrous way in which they were practicing the observance of the Lord's Supper. They were dishonoring Christ's sacrifice for sin as well as the poor in the body of Christ, the church. Despite having more to say on communion, Paul will move on to the topic of spiritual gifts in chapter 12.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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