1 Corinthians 11

1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

I think this verse should be part of the previous chapter. Paul showed how he lived his life with the others in mind, just as Christ did, and he is saying that we too should do the same thing.

How do you deal with 1 Cor 11? Some people have never read that passage. Some people simply ignore that passage, saying that such things don’t apply in this day and age. Others teach that a woman must wear a scarf or something to cover her hair. Some even go as far as to say that every hair must be covered and if even a single hair is visible it is a dishonor to her head.

What do you say?

I would urge you to read the entire passage first, before you read what is written here.

Now let’s look at the portion of 1 Cor 11 that deals with head coverings, verse by verse.

2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

Paul remembers how the Corinthians have done what he asked them in previous times and so he praises them for it and expresses his confidence to say more to them.

3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

The concept of a ‘head’ refers to one person directing the actions of the other – just like how our head tells our body what to do. The order is God – Christ – man – woman. Specifically, in the proper scheme of things, God directed Christ in what He should do, and Christ tells every man what to do, and every woman is to be under the authority of some man. If a woman is married then her husband is her head. If she is not married then if her father is alive then he is her head, otherwise I’m thinking that her pastor would be her head.

Notice that for ‘every’ man, the relationship is not Christ-pastor-man but Christ-man. That is, no man should get in between another man and Christ. The church leaders must be obeyed in matters of church administration (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:5) but a man should get his doctrine and spiritual direction from Christ.

Note that Paul mentions the head relationship here, right in the beginning, and says, "I want you to realize this." His point is that the whole reason for covering or not covering the head is related to headship, not ‘hairship’. That is why it is the head that needs to be covered and not the hair.

This head relationship is applicable in all aspects of life, and not just in the context of the church. That is, Christ is the head of man wherever the man is, and not just when the man is in the church. Similarly, a woman is under the authority of a man wherever she is and not only when she is in the church.

4 Every man who has {something} on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

Prayer is man communicating to God. Prophesy is God communicating to man. So praying and prophesying concern communication between God and man.

Whenever such communication occurs between a person and his or her head, head covering is relevant. Whether you are in a church setting or not, if you are communicating with God you must abide by the rules for head covering laid down here. This is because the head relationship between Christ, man and woman stands whether you are in a church setting or not. I say this because some people say that covering is only relevant when praying or prophesying in a church setting.

A man’s head – Christ – must not be covered when communicating with God.

A woman’s head – man – must be covered when communicating with God.

To do otherwise is to dishonor your head.

To dishonor someone is to show a lack of respect for that person. It’s like saying, "I don’t think much of this person and what he has to say to me." So a man who covers his head when praying or prophesying is saying that he doesn’t think as much of Christ as he should and doesn’t care too much about what Christ has to say to him. And a woman who doesn’t cover her head when praying or prophesying is saying that she doesn’t think much of her husband (or father or pastor) as she should. She is essentially saying that her husband or father or pastor is not worthy of being in authority over her.

6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

Up to now Paul only mentioned the head, not the hair. But here he mentions the hair. So we can see that Paul is well aware of the distinction between hair and head. So let us not read ‘cover your head’ and change it to ‘cover your hair’. Paul very consciously said, "cover the head" and did not say, "cover the hair".

Here, after considering the entire passage, Paul is saying that if a woman doesn’t want to have long hair let her go to the extreme and have no hair at all instead of having short hair. That is why in the previous verse Paul says that having an uncovered head is the same as having her head shaved.

This only makes sense if the covering for the head is long hair. That is, if you don’t have long hair then whether you have short hair or no hair it is the same thing – your head is uncovered. The distinction is between long hair and no long hair.

If Paul was trying to say that a woman should cover her hair instead of her head then this verse wouldn’t make any sense because then a woman would need to simply cover the hair whether it is long or short, and the size of the hair is irrelevant.

7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

Here Paul explains why a covering is or is not needed.

A person’s glory is the best thing about that person.

The image and glory of God should be displayed when communicating with God, but the glory of man should not. The idea is that in God-man interactions God must be exalted, not man. The greatness of God must be evident but the greatness of man must be hidden.

Why is a man the image and glory of God? Man is the image of God in the sense that God is refers to Himself as ‘He’ and not ‘she’. Man is the glory of God because Christ came as man and yet did not sin. That is, the greatest thing that God did was to come in the form of man and still not sin.

Why is a woman the glory of man? Woman is the glory of man because (as explained in the next verse) she is the best thing that came from man.

When a man keeps his head uncovered it’s like saying that he wants to give greater importance to speaking to God and hearing from God than speaking to man and hearing from man. Similarly, when a woman keeps her head covered it’s like saying that she acknowledges that she generally makes her request to her husband or father or pastor, but for now she is temporarily suspending / covering that connection and going directly to God.

Note that no verse says that the glory of woman must be covered, so let’s not add that to Scripture and use that addition as our excuse for saying that a woman’s hair (which is her glory according to verse 13) must be covered.

8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;

9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have {a symbol of} authority on her head, because of the angels.

The reason why the man is the head of woman is because a woman was made from man and for man. In Gen 2:18, we see that woman was created to be man’s helper, which is a subordinate role.

The head covering is a symbol of authority – God’s authority over her rather than man’s authority. That is, when a woman covers her head she is saying that while communicating with God she is temporarily suspending her communication with the man who is normally her head. She is saying that during this time she considers God’s direction more important than man’s direction.

When the angels see a woman’s head covered they know that they should communicate her message to God even though she is normally under the headship of a man.

Angels come into the picture because they are messengers who communicate God’s messages to man and man’s messages to God. As I mentioned earlier, praying and prophesying refer to the two-way communication between man and God. For examples of how angels are used in communication between man and God, consider Dan 9:20-23, Dan 10:4-21, Mt 1:20-24, Mt 2:13,19-20, Lk 1:11-20, 26-38.

The angels, who communicate your prayer to God and God’s word to you, need to know whether you, as a man, consider God’s word more important than any man’s word, and whether you, as a woman, are willing to listen to the man who is in authority over you, but are temporarily suspending that connection.

From God’s perspective, if a man gives more importance to what some other man says than what God says then he shouldn’t be trying to communicate with God – let him go and ask that man instead.

On the other hand, if a woman is not generally willing to listen to the man whom God has placed in authority over her then God doesn’t want to communicate with her. After all, if He told her to be under the authority of a man and she ignored that command would she take seriously anything else that God would say to her?

Note that the purpose of the covering is not for the sake of man (or the church) but ‘because of the angels’ as mentioned in verse 11, and therefore applies everywhere an angel can be, and not just in the church meeting.

11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man {has his birth} through the woman; and all things originate from God.

When it comes to having a personal relationship with God however, both men and women are at the same level. One shouldn’t think that a man can have a closer relationship with God than a woman just because a woman should cover her head and a man shouldn’t cover his.

13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God {with her head} uncovered?

14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Paul says that even from the natural / physical standpoint, long hair is glory for a woman (that is, it makes a woman more presentable) and disgrace for a man, making him less presentable. Even naturally speaking, you want to be presentable when presenting yourself before God. This natural scheme of things complements well the fact that long hair serves as a covering for a woman’s head.

Further, here is where Paul explains what the head covering is. There are several things to note here.

First, notice that he doesn’t say that the head covering is a piece of clothing.

Second, notice that nowhere in this entire passage does Paul say that the hair must be covered. He only says that the head must be covered or uncovered.

Third, notice that here Paul talks about long hair and connects it with covering. If it was the hair that should be covered then the above verses concerning long hair make no sense. That is, why would Paul say that it is a disgrace for a man to have long hair and a glory for a woman to have long hair if the covering were not long hair?

Suppose Paul just wanted to point out that a woman’s hair needed to be covered there would be no reason for him to consistently, and without exception, say that the woman’s head had to be covered. Further, there would be no reason for him to distinguish between long hair and hair that is not long.

Fourth, notice that Paul plainly states that the long hair is the covering. The Greek word translated as ‘covering’ in verse 15 is used only one other time in the New Testament (in Heb 1:12) and there it is translated as ‘mantle’ or ‘robe’ or ‘coat’ or ‘cloak’. By definition, a mantle is never something that must be covered but something that covers. So you cannot interpret verse 15 to say that long hair must be covered; rather, it says that long hair serves as a covering.

All these things go to show that it is the head that is to be covered, not the hair, and that long hair serves as a covering for the head.

One might question why Paul takes 15 sentences instead of one to say that a woman’s long hair is the covering for her head, and use that to ‘prove’ that this passage cannot be taken to mean that a woman’s long hair serves to cover her head. But Paul does use a single sentence, which is 1 Cor 11:15. The other 14 verses explained, among other things, why it is important for a woman to cover her head while praying or prophesying.

So when is hair considered ‘long’ and when is it considered ‘short’? The Bible doesn’t say, but I would offer to say that it was left open to take into consideration cultural differences. That is, in some cultures it might be true that all men shave their head, and in such a case two inches of hair would be ‘long’. In other cultures, the typical man’s hair might be two inches long, in which case a woman’s hair would be long if her hair were 6 inches long. In another culture, a typical man’s hair might be 6 inches long, in which case, a woman’s hair would be long if her hair were 12 inches long. I think the idea is that a woman’s hair should be long enough so that someone (man or angel) looking at her hair from behind would be able to discern whether the person is a woman or man.

16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Paul says very bluntly in the end that all the churches of God must follow this, and there is no point in trying to argue otherwise.

17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.

18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.

19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper,

21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

When the Corinthians met together for communion they were hungry and therefore gorged themselves without thinking of the other person. They didn’t realize what communion (or breaking of the bread) was meant for. So Paul explains the meaning of communion.

In communion, God, in His goodness, has provided us with a test that we can apply to see whether God thinks we are saved.

The test is this: if you can break bread in a church that is spiritually alive without becoming weak or falling sick or dying then you know that God acknowledges that you are keeping your part of the covenant with Him (for a detailed explanation of covenants see the chapter on "How God made our salvation possible" in my book "The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way.") and He will keep His part and forgive your sin. That is, you know that God agrees that you are saved.

1 Cor 11:23-32 (the passage that talks about the Lord’s supper) deals with this test. Let us study these verses carefully. There also are parallel verses in Mt 26:26-28, Mk 14:22-24 and Lk 22:17-20. I include them here for your convenient reference.

Mt 26:26-28 While they were eating, Jesus took {some} bread, and after a blessing, He broke {it} and gave {it} to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave {it} to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."

Mk 14:22-24 While they were eating, He took {some} bread, and after a blessing He broke {it,} and gave {it} to them, and said, "Take {it;} this is My body." And when He had taken a cup {and} given thanks, He gave {it} to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."

Lk 22:17-20 And when He had taken a cup {and} given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken {some} bread {and} given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way {He took} the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

Let us now go through 1 Cor 11:23-32 verse by verse.

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

One thing to note is that the Lord commanded us to do this. You will understand the reason why this is a commandment and not optional when you understand the purpose of the breaking of bread.

He also said that while doing this we are to remember Him. What is it about Him that we are to remember? Specifically, we are to remember that His body was given up for us (that is, He suffered spiritual death for us) and that the new covenant (for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28)) was established in His blood (that is, He suffered physical death for us). Let me explain why I say this.

There are two elements to His death – spiritual death and physical death. The first element was His spiritual death in which His body (or flesh (Jn 6:51)) was given for us. His spiritual death was the price He paid for our sins by suffering the punishment that we were to suffer – which is an eternity in hell. This is what He meant when He said that His body was given for us. His spiritual death made spiritual (or eternal) life possible for us.

The other element was His physical death, which is also described as the shedding of His blood. This shedding of blood was done to initiate a new covenant between God and man. It was a covenant regarding how God would forgive the sins of man.

Notice that He never says that His body was given to establish the covenant. It is His blood that establishes the covenant.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Upon establishing a covenant both parties are expected to keep their part.

On God’s part, He agreed to pay the price for the sins of man (through the spiritual death of His Son), and to provide the blood for establishing the covenant (through the physical death of His Son).

On man’s part, in order to enter and stay in the covenant, he had to satisfy the requirements for salvation that God laid down in His word.

Every covenant between God and man for the forgiveness of sins had to be initiated with blood (Heb 9:15-26). That is why Christ had to die physically. Until the covenant was established, even though the price for sins was paid, the gift of salvation could not be given to us.

Consider this example: I have bought a gift for you. I have paid the price for the gift. But the gift is still with me. Even though I have paid the price for it you do not receive the benefit of the gift. It is only when I make an agreement with you, to meet you somewhere and hand you the gift, that you can receive it. For you to receive it, you have to believe that I indeed have a gift for you (which is a picture of faith), and then you have to want to receive the gift and come to the place where we agreed to meet (which is a picture of a person wanting to be saved from sin and showing that by wanting to stop sinning).

In the same way, even though the price for sins was paid when on the cross Christ said ‘It is finished’ the payment could not be applied to anyone until God established the covenant through the blood of Christ. Further, any specific person could not benefit until he began to keep his part of the covenant. This is also why even though Christ died for the sins of the whole world the whole world is not saved.

So we see that the bread and the wine are symbolic of the spiritual and physical death of Christ. Therefore, in the Lord’s supper we are to remember the spiritual and physical death that made possible the new covenant between God and man. We are to remember that there is a covenant between God and us – a covenant by which God forgives our sins.

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

Verse 25 explains the meaning of the Lord’s supper. To ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ means to acknowledge that the Lord died for you – both physically and spiritually, as explained in the verse before. It is to acknowledge that you are in covenant with God – the new covenant established through the spiritual and physical death of Christ. This is what the Lord’s supper means to those who partake of it. It is the way that we say to God that we are in covenant with Him.

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

Because there is a covenant involved there are consequences to breaking the covenant.

To partake in the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner means to say that you are a partaker of the covenant and yet not keep your end of the covenant.

When you don’t keep your end of the covenant you are in effect making useless all the work that God did on His side of the covenant.

For example, suppose you agree to pay a certain sum to a builder to build a custom home for you, and he builds it as agreed. Now suppose you do not pay him as you agreed. You have now made all his work useless. Therefore, you are guilty of compensating him for all the work that he has done.

In the same way, a person who enters into the new covenant and then does not keep his side of the covenant is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. That is, the man owes God all the pain and suffering due to the spiritual and physical death that Christ had to endure for that man’s sins.

28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Because of the seriousness of the consequences, whenever we partake of the Lord’s supper we must examine ourselves to see if we are keeping our side of the covenant. To do so, we must understand what we have agreed to and ensure that we have done and are doing the things that we have agreed to.

29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

In the builder example above, if you don’t pay the builder for the custom home as you agreed, the builder can take you to court. As a result, you will be judged in the matter and made to pay what you owe. In the same way, if God examines us and finds that we are not keeping our side of the covenant then He has the right to judge us.

30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

The judgment that God executes is weakness or sickness of body; and perhaps death, for a person who partakes of the Lord’s supper with no regard whatsoever for keeping his side of the covenant.

Therefore, if we find these symptoms in us after we have partaken of the Lord’s supper we should take it very seriously and realize that we are not in the new covenant with God (that is, we are no longer saved) and take steps to secure our eternal destiny.

31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.

When we partake of the Lord’s supper, He examines whether we are keeping our side of the covenant. If God examines us and finds that we are keeping it then He does not judge us. If we find that we are not judged then we can conclude that we are indeed in covenant with God and have an assurance of our salvation. In this case we have judged correctly (or rightly) when we say that we are keeping our part of the covenant. Therefore, God does not judge us. This is a good way to test whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) and be assured of our salvation.

32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Verse 32 explains the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and God’s judgment and discipline. God’s discipline is not a punishment for our sins. The only punishment for sins is an eternity in hell, and Christ paid that price. To teach otherwise is heresy.

God’s purpose in disciplining us is to make us recognize that in His eyes we are not in covenant with Him and therefore we are not saved. He gives us this warning while we can do something about it and get into covenant with Him, and thereby not be condemned along with the rest of the world.

Note that the discipline does not automatically put a person back into covenant with God. If a person does not heed the warning and continues to not keep his part of the covenant he will be condemned along with the rest of the world – that is, he will not be saved.

These verses only make sense if it is possible to lose one’s salvation. If one could never lose his salvation then it would be enough to break bread only once; there would be no need to do the test regularly. Yet Christ asks us to do this test ‘as often as we drink the cup.’

Those who say that it is not possible to lose your salvation cannot properly explain verse 32. After all, from their point of view, a person who is saved will definitely not be condemned with the world. How then would God’s discipline prevent them from being condemned along with the world?

Based on the above explanation of the passage we can now understand what Jesus meant when he said in Jn 6:53,54 that we should eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life.

In Jn 6:63 Jesus explicitly said that we should take the spirit (or intent) of the words, which meant that we should not take the words literally.

Based on the above explanation of 1 Cor 11:23-32 we can see that to eat His flesh and drink His blood means to be in covenant with God for the forgiveness of sins. We keep our part of the covenant and God keeps His part by forgiving us our sins and giving us eternal life.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Clearly, the breaking of bread was not meant to be to quench hunger and thirst.


Copyright (c) 2007-2019, Rosario (Ross) D'Souza. All Rights Reserved
Contact us