1 Corinthians 11
Checklist for going to church
Follow my example1Imitate me, because I imitate Christ.
Listen up2I’ll give you credit for always keeping me in mind, and for staying true to the Christian teachings exactly as I taught them to you. 3But there’s something I need to tell you, and I want you to understand what I’m about to say. God is boss. God is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of every man. Every husband is the head of his wife.
Women, cover your head for worship4Men, here’s how to disgrace the head you carry on your shoulders: pray or prophesy while you’re wearing something on your head. 5Women, here’s how to disgrace the head you carry on your shoulders: pray or prophesy with nothing on your head. You might as well shave yourself bald. 6I’m telling you, if a woman won’t cover her head, she might as well grab some shears and cut her hair off. Come on, we know how to shame a woman: cut her hair off. What I’m saying is that a woman needs to cover her head.
Men, take off your hat7Men, on the other hand, shouldn’t wear anything on their head when they worship. I’ll tell you why. It’s because men are created to resemble God, in all his glory. Women came later, as a reflection of man in all his glory. 
8Man didn’t come from woman. Woman came from man. 9Man wasn’t created to serve the needs of woman. Woman was created for man. 10A woman needs to keep her head covered. It’s a symbol she has the authority to speak. That’s because angels are watching this.
11But in the end, a man and woman depend on each other. Neither one is independent. 12The first woman may have come from a man, but ever since then, every man has come from a woman. By the way, everything comes from God. 13You decide. Do you really think it’s okay for a woman to talk to God with her head uncovered?
14Come on, can’t you see it’s unnatural for a man to have long hair and that if he wears it that way, he should be ashamed? 15But a woman with long hair should be proud of herself. Her long hair is like a cape that covers her. 16If anyone wants to argue about this, don’t bother. There’s just one custom when it comes to haircuts. It’s the custom I just described. It doesn’t matter if we're talking about the custom in the church or outside the church. They are one and the same.
How to get communion wrong17Now about your worship services, don’t expect any compliments. People go there for the better. They leave there for the worse. 18First of all, I’ve heard that when you get together you can’t seem to get along. I’ve got to tell you I believe that’s at least partly true.
19It’s natural to have opposing groups in situations like this. That’s because true believers are not going to go along with the others.
20One of your problems is that you’re not honoring the Lord with the way you conduct the Lord’s Supper. 21You’ve turned it into a picnic. When it comes time to eat, everyone eats whatever they brought for themselves. Some go hungry. Others get drunk.
22What in the world is going on with you? Don’t you have homes where you can eat whatever you like? Are you deliberately trying to shame the church by humiliating poor folks who have nothing? What am I supposed to say about this? What do you want me to say? Should I give you a big Amen? Fat chance.
How to get communion right23I told you what the Lord told me. I said that on the night our leader, Jesus, was betrayed, he took some bread. 24He gave thanks for it. He tore it into smaller pieces. Then he said “This is my body. It’s for you. Eat this bread as a way of remembering me.” 25After supper, he lifted his cup and said, “This cup is the new contract, written in my blood. Whenever you drink from the cup, remember me.” 26Whenever you eat this bread and drink from this cup you are telling everyone about the Lord’s death. Do it until he comes back.
27Don’t be irreverent when you eat this bread or drink from the Lord’s cup. If you do, you’ll be held accountable for disrespecting the body and the blood of our leader. 28So before you eat the bread or drink from the cup, pause and consider how genuine your faith is.
29There’s a price to pay for anyone who eats this bread and drinks from this cup in a way that disrespects the body of the Lord. 30You’re already paying the price. Many of you have gotten weak and sick. Some of you have died.
31If we take a hard look at our spiritual life and keep our faith real, we’re not going to be punished. 32But when the Lord does punish us, he’s doing it for our own good. He’s correcting us so he doesn’t have to condemn us when it comes time to condemn the world.
33So let me give you this advice, my family. When you get together to eat this meal, wait until everyone gets there. 34If you’re hungry, eat a meal at home before you come to the worship service. Then you won’t end up eating the Lord’s Supper disrespectfully—and getting punished for it. I’ve got more instructions for you on other topics, but will talk about them when I come.
Christ is the Greek word for “Messiah.” It’s sometimes hard to tell when Paul is using the word as a substitute for the name of Jesus, and when he is using it the way Greek-speaking Jews did when they were talking about a Messiah they said their prophets predicted would one day come and free the Jewish nation.
Instead of “Christian teachings” Paul more literally said “the traditions.” Given the context, many Bible experts say, Paul was talking about the stories and the teachings about Jesus and the Christian faith.
Paul doesn’t explain why he thinks women should cover their head in church worship services, and why men should do the opposite (with the exception of a perplexing, abstract statement in 11:7.)” One theory is that the men and women were dressing more androgynously because they were taking too far the teaching “We’re not men or women. We’re one people, united in Jesus, the Messiah” (Galatians 3:28). Another theory is that women were taking off their veils when they spoke during worship services. Perhaps they did this to call attention to themselves or to express a sense of women’s liberation in the teachings of Christianity. Or maybe it was as simple as the ladies wanting to show off their “fancy hairdos” (1 Timothy 2:9).
Paul is referring to “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27 New American Standard Bible).
The Genesis writer reports that God created the man first and then later created the woman from “one of the man’s ribs” (Genesis 2:21).
Paul more literally says man wasn’t created “for woman.” The substitute phrase “to serve the needs of woman” is implied by the context of the Genesis story, which says the man needed a companion.
There’s no indication Paul ever got married.
It’s unclear what Paul meant by this. That’s reflected in various Bible translations. Door number one: “A woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority” (New Living Translation). Door number two: “A woman ought to have authority over her own head” (New International Version). Door number three: “The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (New American Standard Bible). Some scholars say the head covering was a sign of authority—either the authority of the women (perhaps comparable to the crown a king wears) or the authority that men had over the women, since men didn’t have to wear a head covering.
Bible experts have to guess what Paul meant when he said, literally, “because of the angels.” Some speculate Paul was drawing from his Jewish traditions that taught angels were “guardians of order.” That would seem to make them guardian angels in a church worship service, overseeing the order of the service.
Bible experts seem to be unsure about what custom Paul was talking about. Some say he was talking about the fact that men should have short hair and women should have long hair because there should be no blurring of gender differences. Short hair for men was customary throughout the Roman Empire. Women wore their hair long. And women who could afford it sometimes wore elaborate hairdos that could look like a beehive home for hummingbirds. Other Bible scholars suggest Paul may have been talking about who should wear what head covering at sacred events such as a worship service.
Often translated “new covenant.” This refers to a new agreement that prophets said God would make with his people. This new contract would replace the old set of Jewish laws. In this new agreement, the laws wouldn’t be written on stone or on scrolls. Instead they would be written on the hearts of people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13).
What best reflects your reaction to Paul’s one-liner that opens this chapter: “Imitate me, because I imitate Christ” (11:1)?
- “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man” (Ned Pepper addressing Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 movie “True Grit”).
- I can’t imagine any pastor today being able to pull off a line like that during the sermon.
- Paul’s exemplary life is one that the Corinthian believers would do well to mimic.
- Christianity was a new movement. Converts were trying to find their way. Paul was trying to give some of them a living example of what it means to be a Christian.
Paul makes a big deal about what people should put on their heads or not put on their heads when they go into a worship service. He says women have to cover their heads and men have to not cover their heads (11:5-7). There are a bunch of theories that attempt to explain what provoked Paul to talk about this. What do you think of the following attempts to explain what was going on?
- Men and women were dressing more androgynously because they were taking too far the teaching “We’re not men or women. We’re one people, united in Jesus, the Messiah” (Galatians 3:28).
- Women were taking off their veils when they spoke during worship services. Perhaps they did this to call attention to themselves or to express a sense of women’s liberation in the teachings of Christianity.
- The ladies wanted to show off their “fancy hairdos” (1 Timothy 2:9).
Paul, in 11:10, explains the reason women need to cover their heads in worship services. But the reason he gives is anything but clear. That’s reflected in the different interpretations that show up in Bible translations and paraphrases. Which of the following versions makes most sense to you?
- “A woman needs to keep her head covered. It’s a symbol she has the authority to speak” (Casual English Bible).
- “A woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority” (New Living Translation).
- “A woman ought to have authority over her own head” (New International Version).
- “The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her” (New American Standard Bible).
If you were a lady having a conversation with Paul, which reply best matches what you would say in response to this quote of his: “Do you really think it’s okay for a woman to talk to God with her head uncovered?” (11:13).
- Oh, I think God has bigger things on his mind than what I’m wearing when I’m talking to him. At least I hope he does.
- Just so you know, I sometimes talk to him buck naked.
- I don’t understand why this is a big deal for you, but I trust your advice and will do as you say when I’m out in public.
There’s some kind of problem with the way the Corinth church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, sometimes known today as Communion or the Eucharist. It’s not entirely clear to readers today what was going on. We have to fill in the gaps, based on context clues like this: “You’ve turned it into a picnic. When it comes time to eat, everyone eats whatever they brought for themselves. Some go hungry. Others get drunk” (11:21). What’s your best guess about what’s going on and what caused the problem?
LIFE APPLICATION. Why do you think people tell us how we should look and how we should dress? When do you think it’s okay to do that? And when is it not necessary to do that?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said men should keep their hair cut short and women should let their hair grow long (11:14-15). Do you think this advice is worth considering today?
LIFE APPLICATION. There are some Christians who skip the Lord’s Supper because of something Paul said: “Don’t be irreverent when you eat this bread or drink from the Lord’s cup. If you do, you’ll be held accountable for disrespecting the body and the blood of our leader” (11:27). They skip taking Communion because they feel unworthy, perhaps because of something they did recently. Many pastors would advise those Christians to take Communion anyhow. Why do you think the pastors would give them that advice?