1 Corinthians 10:14-11:16
Meat Offered to Idols - 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (cont.)
The section on participation in idol temple feasts ends in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. Paul then deals with the question of eating idol meat purchased in the meat market in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 before beginning a new section with 1 Corinthians 11:2.
Idol Temple Participation Prohibited - 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
After carefully defining the problems that could arise from participating in the idol temple celebration feasts, defending his own apostolic authority, and giving the warning provided by Israel's example, Paul finally arrives at his goal in verse 14. He issues a straightforward command, "Flee idolatry." Even with all the careful argument that he has constructed for two and a half chapters, Paul appears concerned that the Corinthians will fail to understand him. Some may think that he was too tough so he addresses them as "my beloved." Others may have not realized the seriousness of the situation so Paul commands them, "Flee idolatry." Barrett (p. 230) correctly states, "It is not enough to express disapproval of idolatry; the Christian must run away from it, that is, he must avoid occasions . . . that would bring him into direct contact with it."
Paul's argument in chapter 8 was subtle. He would not eat meat offered to idols in a temple celebration if it caused a brother to stumble. Several of the Corinthians didn't care what Paul would not do. They had no such scruples. The example of Israel could easily be disregarded by the gentile-dominated church at Corinth. It was time for Paul to become very specific and he does with the very direct command, "Flee idolatry."
The question of a Christian's interaction with the world is a two-edged sword. The church has consistently struggled with this question. On the one hand the New Testament is consistently confident that the grace and power of God are able to protect a believer from the harmful influences of the world. The evangelistic mandate of Jesus assumes that a believer can and will live in a sinful world, rubbing elbows with unbelievers, and will be a positive influence rather than being tainted by the world. The conclusion is clear. We can and we must live our lives interacting with and participating in the general life of our cultural world.
On the other hand Christ and the church have always rejected any influence of the sinful world in shaping and defining the life of the believer. Church history is full of examples of the church urging withdrawal from the world for the sake of the purity of Christ's people. It is easy to become confused about the appropriate stance a Christian should take toward the world. Several principles emerge from the particular form this discussion takes between Paul and the Corinthian church.
First, the case for withdrawal from the world is made in the face of a fundamental desire to be like the world and to have the "right" to do whatever is done in the world. This is the problem of the Corinthians Paul commanded to flee idolatry. It is the problem many devout Christian face with their teenage children. It was the problem Judaism faced in the inter-testamental period when many Jews found it more attractive to appear to be gentiles rather than to be identified as Jews.
The counsel to withdraw from the world may be the best advice under certain circumstances. However, we must understand that those circumstances represent a failure fully to evangelize those inside the church. When believers are not fully convinced of the superiority of their faith to any alternative, withdrawal from the world may temporarily provide us a chance to finish converting them. But this should not be regarded as normal Christianity nor as a satisfactory long-term solution. A church that tries to save itself by prohibiting any contact with the world is too weak to hold those who really want to "enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin."
It is also true that a church that wants to define itself by standards of the world is not the body of Christ at all. However, those two extremes are not our only choices. The gospel calls us to such a wholehearted commitment to God through Christ that we can live in the world as an influence for good and remain untainted by the sinful aspects of our culture. Wholehearted commitment to God prohibits our participation in sin. Wholehearted commitment to God (as opposed to partial to God and significant commitment to ourselves) will allow us to live and work beside sinners without being pulled into their sin. The bottom line has everything to do with the true object of our commitments.
Verse 15 invites the Corinthians as sensible people to evaluate what Paul said. Then he launches into his final argument against participation in the idol temple celebrations in verses 16-22. Paul argues in these verses that participation in the idol temple feasts contradicts one of the basic meanings of the Lord's Supper. Though the order of Paul's discussion of cup and bread is here opposite the traditional order of bread and cup, there can be no doubt that Paul is talking about the Lord's Supper.
The expression, "cup of blessing," comes from the language of the Jewish Passover meal. In the full Passover celebration there were (and are) four times at which a cup of wine was drunk (see Passover Seder). Each time the person presiding over the Passover celebration gave a blessing over the cup. Christianity then came to describe the cup at the Lord's Supper as the cup of blessing. Paul describes it as the "cup of blessing which we bless." This does not provide any details but makes it clear that even as early as the AD 50's a blessing prayer of thanksgiving and praise was offered just before or just after drinking from the communion cup.
Verse 16 also mentions "bread which we break." The language of breaking bread was also drawn from the liturgy of the Jewish Passover celebration. Acts 2:46; 20:7 and 11 use the same expression to refer to the Lord's Supper. Paul also uses the Greek word, koinonia, to describe both the cup and the bread in verse 16. The most common translations are the words, "sharing," and "participation," though the KJV uses the word "communion."
Interpreters have debated whether Paul meant that the bread and cup of the Lord's Supper brought about sharing between God and the worshipper or sharing between the worshippers themselves. Paul would have rejected a limitation of his meaning to either of these alternatives. Both are included but we must understand the depth of meaning signified by koinonia. The word koinonia could describe a variety of kinds and levels of sharing and participation. The word was even used for a verbal contract that pledged partners to mutual business commitment. If that were his meaning here it would speak of commitment as the result of the sharing.
Paul's Jewish background suggests that such a sense of commitment should be understood here. In Semitic cultures, the act of eating with another person was an act of commitment. It was a pledge of mutual defense and support. Based on their understanding that it took three days for food to pass through the body and be eliminated, Jews believed that one was committed to support and defend another with whom he had eaten for the three days following the meal (see Travelers and Strangers). Part of the reason the scribes and Pharisees objected so much to Jesus eating and drinking with various kinds of sinners was this cultural understanding. They saw Jesus pledging his support to the sinners.
Paul's point here is that to participate in the Lord's Supper is to commit oneself to Christ. To participate in the idol temple celebration meal was to commit oneself to the deity represented by that idol. Thus Paul's conclusion is stated in verse 21. "You can not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can not to share at the table of the Lord and the table of the demons." Such action is spiritual schizophrenia. It is making a wholehearted commitment to two very different objects of worship. It is both logically and morally impossible to pledge full allegiance to two such different relationships.
Eating and drinking at the table of the Lord pledges our commitment to Christ and to the other believers which whom we participate in the communion meal. That enables Paul to conclude, as he does in verse 17, that the communion meal both creates and expresses the oneness of body of Christ. Though he does not develop that concept it relates back to his own example given at the end of chapter 8. The unity of the church as the body of Christ means that no individual believer has the right to ignore the consequences of his or her actions on a brother or sister. Paul's statement that he would never eat meat again if it caused another to stumble shows how to respect the unity of the body of Christ.
Eating Marketplace Meat - 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
The primary focus of chapters 8-10 has been participation in idol temple celebration feasts. Paul's conclusion is that such participation is inconsistent with the Christian life. In 10:23-11:1 he turns to a related question, that of eating meat purchased in the meat markets that had been offered to an idol. The apostle's answer has led some to accuse him of inconsistency. However, Paul sees an important distinction and we must recognize this distinction.
Verse 23 is almost identical to 1 Corinthians 6:12. There the words, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial," signaled a shift in subject matter. That is also true here in 10:23. Verse 24 follows with a (third person) command, "No one must seek his own thing, but that of another." The Greek speaks vaguely of one's "own thing," but most translations have one's own advantage or good. What is clearer in Greek than in English is that the other is another who is different. It is not inconvenient to support someone else's interests when that person shares my interests, viewpoints, and prejudices. It is much more challenging to seek another's interests when that other person is quite different from me. The conclusion would be that the Corinthians must guard the interests of those who see the issue of eating meat offered to idols differently. Paul will eventually make that point in verse 28 but first he has another important perspective to add to the issue.
Verse 25 commands the Corinthians to eat everything sold in the meat market without asking questions about whether the meat had been slaughtered at an idol temple for the purpose of a sacrifice. The oral tradition required Jews to investigate the source of any meat that they might buy to find out whether or not it met Jewish standards. Paul rejects such a requirement and commands the Corinthians to eat the meat without asking any questions.
He supports his case in verse 26 by a partial quotation of Psalm 24:1. The rabbis had used Psalm 24:1 as a proof text for saying meal graces. Paul extends that logic in another direction. Since the earth is the Lord's and everything in the earth is God's then everything we take from the earth to eat is God's gift and we should give him thanks for it. This conclusion follows from 8:4. Since an idol is nothing then nothing really happens to the meat sacrificed to an idol. The potential for harm comes from the awareness of the sacrifice, not from the act itself. Paul's conclusion is, "Don't ask."
The same logic applies in case a person is invited as a guest in another's home. Don't ask where the meat came from. Just eat it and be thankful. However, if the person volunteers the information that the meat had earlier been sacrificed to an idol Paul commands the Corinthians not to eat it. The very fact that the person would announce the source of the meat shows that that person has some problem with meat offered to an idol. Either the person is struggling personally with the issue or that person sees the guest's conduct as making an important theological statement. In either case Paul recommends that the believer not eat the meat. The issue is not one's own conscience but the conscience of the other person who obviously has some problem.
Verses 31-33 provide the general principles that guide us in any situation like the meat offered to idols problem at Corinth. Everything is to be done for the glory of God. No action that diminishes God or undermines respect for him can be acceptable in the Christian life. Offend as few as possible states another principle. Paul states this principle positively in Romans 12:18. There may be occasions where it is impossible to avoid offending but such offense must not arise from the desire to please ourselves rather than someone else.
Paul closes this section in 1 Corinthians 11:1 with the exhortation to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Paul's pattern of ministry had been to give up his rights for the sake of others and to become all things to all people to win some. That aspect of Paul's ministry is always worthy of being imitated. The frequency with which he uses imitation language implies that Paul had wider applications in mind. He understood the necessity of putting one's own life on display as an example for other Christians to follow. Unless we develop the maturity to say and do the same the Christian faith will be robbed of one of its unique and important resources.
Women in Worship - 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
The treatment of the dangers of participating in the idol temple feasts may have brought to mind ways in which the Corinthian church failed to live up to its name. Paul turns to address problems in the worship life of the Corinthian church. The question of women's head covering or hairstyle at the worship service is treated in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Problems with the Lord's Supper appear in 11:17-34 and disorder in worship is discussed in chapters 12-14.
First Corinthians 11:2-16 is very difficult to understand for several reasons. At the end of the twentieth century the question of the place of women in Christian worship has been very controversial. Translations of this paragraph vary more than normally. This is because Paul uses several Greek words and phrases in unusual and almost unintelligible ways. His appeal to logic sometimes seems quite illogical. Finally, we do not have adequate information of the cultural patterns of and implications of women's behavior and appearance in Corinth at the time of Paul.
One of the difficult to understand words is "head" which appears in verse 3. Christ is described as the head of every man. Man is described as the head of woman and God is described as the head of Christ. Popular interpretation has focused on the part of the verse referring to the man being head of the woman. Popular interpretation also assumes that the word "head" means superiority or having authority over. This view has been used to support arguments against equality for women.
Two problems undermine this common understanding. First, if this interpretation of "head" is used, the final part of the verse describes Christ as inferior to God. This view was condemned as heresy early in Christian history. Second, the Greek word for "head" rarely has the meaning of ruler or superiority. The normal meaning of "head" in Greek is "source" or "source of life." This meaning makes better sense of all three phrases in verse 3 and is consistent with the larger context. Christ is the source of life for every man. Man was the source of life for woman as Genesis 2 relates. God was and is Christ's source of life and being.
Verse 4 turns to consider a man's behavior that brings dishonor. The verse speaks of every man who prays and prophesies. The reference to prophesying means that Paul has a public service of worship in mind. One can pray in private but the early Christian church understood prophecy to be a gift given for use in public worship. The wrong behavior would bring dishonor on every man's "head." Since verse 3 has just stated that Christ is the head of every man we must conclude that Paul was concerned about behavior that would dishonor Christ in an assembly of public worship.
The Greek text seems to leave a word out in the description of this wrong behavior. The Greek text speaks literally of the man "having down the head." Most scholars conclude that Paul is speaking about wearing a head covering. However, other suggestions have been made including a veil over the face and long hair! What is not clear is why Paul would think that it dishonored Christ for a man to cover his head during a public worship service.
In contrast to the expectation that men participate in and lead worship bareheaded, verse 5 states that the same does not hold for women. A woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered brings dishonor to her head. Verse 3 should again direct our understanding of the second reference to head in verse 5. Praying or prophesying by a woman with an uncovered head brings dishonor to man.
This verse makes two important points and creates a problem. First, it is important to note that Paul assumes that women at Corinth will pray and prophesy in the public worship service. Since prophecy was an "up-front" and speaking gift, the apostle is talking about women proclaiming a word from God and taking a leadership role in the service. How this verse can be reconciled to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is another problem but this is a clear reference to women participating in worship and in leadership of worship on an equal basis with the men.
Second, since Paul states that the woman's uncovered head dishonors the man most scholars believe the apostle is addressing a breakdown in observation of gender distinctions. For reasons that are not clear to modern readers, Paul believed that men should participate in worship with uncovered heads and women should do so with covered heads. Though in Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28) in the creation certain distinctions are made and Paul seems to believe that those distinctions must still be observed. The problem is determining what those distinctions are.
Verse 6 implies that the shame of a woman having her head uncovered was the same as the shame of having her hair cut or shaved off. It has been common to state that having a short haircut or a shaved head was the sign of the prostitute in Corinth. That is possible, but there is no evidence from ancient Corinth that would support such a view. Fee (p. 511) argues that a woman with her head shaved or her hair cut short would look more like man and that Paul's objection is to such attempts to blur the distinction between men and women. Several documents of ancient literature support Fee's point.
The Greek text of verse 7 begins with the word "for" which suggests that Paul intends to present a supporting argument for his statements in verses 4-6. Verse 7 states that a man ought not cover his head since he is the image and glory of God. There is little doubt that Paul had Genesis 1:26-28 in mind when he states that man is the image of God, although that passage in Genesis states that both man and woman are in the image of God.
However, Paul's interest is not in the word "image" but in the word "glory." Man is God's glory in that he was created by God's direct activity. To cover his head would diminish the glory that belonged to God by creation. On the other hand woman is the glory of man. Verses 8-9 are intended to explain why woman is the glory of man. These verses reflect Genesis 2:18-20 and 23. Since woman was created from man's rib she comes from man rather than vice versa. Genesis 2:18-20 makes it clear that woman was created for man's sake. Paul concludes from Genesis 2 that woman is the glory of man. Fee (p. 516) points out that Paul does not deny that woman is also the glory of God. His concern is simply that the actions of Corinthian women in praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered undermined man's glory.
The flow of Paul's argument would suggest that he should then command women to keep their heads covered. Verse 10 has often been interpreted in this way and the original RSV translates, "A woman ought to have a veil on her head." However, the Greek text of verse 10 says is that a woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels. The traditional view, which sees subordination of women in this passage, assumes that this means a woman should have some sign of a man's authority over her. The Living Bible most directly reflects such a view when it paraphrases verse 10 to say, "A woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign that she is under man's authority."
However, this represents a very unnatural way of understanding the Greek construction. This same word "authority" was used in chapters 8-10 to refer to a person's "right" to attend an idol temple feast. The natural meaning of the Greek of verse 10 is that a woman ought to have freedom over her head to do as she chooses.
The other significant phrase of verse 10 is "because of the angels." Paul's meaning for this phrase is quite unclear. The common interpretation assumes that angels are male and watch the worship service. Therefore, women should keep their heads covered so the angels won't become lustful. Though this view is common it has little evidence that would support it.
A more natural interpretation from intertestamental Jewish sources would be that angels give the gift of prophecy. Thus Paul may mean in verse 10 that a woman ought to have the freedom to choose what to do about her head because the angels have gifted her with the gift of prophecy. The larger context argues that a woman should keep her head covered, but Paul acknowledges that the reason is to maintain the cultural distinctions between men and women. The reason is not spiritual. At the spiritual level a woman should have freedom.
The main message of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has been the necessity of a woman keeping her head covered while participating and leading in public worship. Verse 10 pointed out that this restriction was not for spiritual or theological reasons. Verses 11-12 declare that the matter cannot be reduced to men's authority or women's rights. Neither man nor woman is independent of the other.
Paul's argument in verses 8-9 that man was created before woman is counter-balanced by the fact that a woman gives birth to every man (v. 12). The point is not the priority of either male or female, but the submission of all human beings to God. Paul then moves toward the conclusion of this section by asking the Corinthians to figure out the matter themselves. However, he "coaches" them about the correct conclusion. He argues that nature teaches that a man should have short hair and a woman should have long hair. Since nature teaches that, Paul concludes a woman should also keep her head covered in a service of worship.
First Corinthians 11:2-16 is the only place in Paul's biblical letters where he argues for a cultural standard. Because his argument is so much related to the cultural expectations of what Paul thought was "natural" this is a very difficult passage to apply today. Paul's arguments make no sense today to require a woman to wear a hat in church! His general principle that the basic distinction between men and women ought to be maintained is valid. However, the way in which that distinction will be maintained and expressed will vary from culture to culture.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:16. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Describe why they were significant to you.
2. Select a spiritual truth that has a personal application in your own life. Describe how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to live all your life for his glory.
Second Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Now turn your focus to 1 Corinthians 11:17-26.
1. Compare verse 17 with 1 Corinthians 11:2. Which was the more serious problem at Corinth, women's head coverings or problems at the Lord's Supper? Why?
2. What reason does Paul give for divisions in the church in verse 19? Do you think he is being serious or sarcastic? Why? Have you ever seen division in the church for this reason? Was it helpful?
3. What is the problem at the Lord's Supper in Corinth? Why does Paul describe it as despising or showing contempt for the church?
Third Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Focus in on 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 .
1. Compare verses 23-26 with Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; and Luke 22:14-23. What is common to all the accounts? What individual differences did you notice that interested you?
2. Verse 26 describes communion as "proclaiming" the Lord's death until he comes. How does observance of the Lord's Supper also function as proclamation of the gospel?
3. What does verse 27 mean when it speaks of partaking of communion "in an unworthy manner?" If the "body" or "Lord's body" in verse 29 meant the church how would that influence your answer?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-12:13. Now focus on 1 Corinthians 11:27-12:3.
1. Why did Paul think many Corinthians were sick and some had even died? What remedy did he suggest?
2. Explain Paul's expression in verse 33, "wait for each other," as a solution to the Corinthian problem at the Lord's Supper. What other problems in the life of the church could be solved by this advice?
3. Do you think Paul was speaking very literally of pronouncing words in 1 Corinthians 12:3 or was he addressing a spiritual problem? What problem could ever lead to someone saying, "Jesus be cursed?"
Fifth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-26. Focus your attention on 1 Corinthians 12:4-13.
1. What variety is possible within the Christian life according to these focus verses? What is common and does not vary from believer to believer? How does this analysis by Paul make you feel? Why?
2. What spiritual gifts or manifestations of the Spirit described in verse 8-10 did the Corinthians possess? Did the Corinthians have trouble "handling" some of these gifts? If so, which ones and why?
3. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in these focus verses? What spiritual gift(s) or manifestation(s) of the Spirit do you believe you have received? What have you done with these gifts?
Sixth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-26. Now focus your attention on 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.
1. Do you believe Paul used the figure of speech of the church as the body of Christ to teach the unity of the church or the diversity of the members of the church? Why do you think so?
2. What does Paul's teaching about the body of Christ say about the importance of each person in the church? What patterns and habits in the life of the church undermine this teaching? What can you do about it?
3. Identify aspects of the life of your church that fall short of the picture Paul paints in these focus verses. Write a brief prayer asking God to use you to begin to bring improvement to these areas.