In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 10:1-22. In that chapter Paul returned to the subject of eating at the pagan temples. In this essay we are studying 1 Cor. 10:23-11:3. There are two sections involved here, but we will only deal with two verses of the second section. In the first section, 10:23-11:1, Paul takes up the subject of marketplace meat. As we are going to see, this is a completely different issue from eating at the pagan temples. In the second section, 11:2-16, Paul deals with the matter of gender in public worship. But we shall only go as far as 11:3.
Paul has finished his argument against eating meals at the pagan temples. Now he takes up a different issue from the Corinthians’ letter, namely, the issue of eating meat that was sold in the marketplace. He begins in verse 23 by quoting from their letter, almost word for word, the same sentence he quoted in 6:12: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.” Here he adds, “All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”
In 6:12 and following Paul was honing in on sexual immorality in the church and its effects on the individual. Here he is dealing with the eating of marketplace meat and its effects on the community. But the principle in both cases is the same. Christians must think first about others rather than about their own freedom and rights.
In verses 25-26 Paul speaks regarding the use of such meat in one’s home. And his advice is to buy and eat it with a good conscience. Not all the meat available in the markets had been sacrificed to an idol. But most of it had. However, Paul was unconcerned about where the marketplace meat came from. Purchasing and eating that meat did not involve fellowship with demons, as did eating it as part of a pagan ritual at a pagan temple. Notice in verse 26 that Paul supports his argument scripturally with a quotation from Ps. 24:1.
In verses 27-29a Paul shifts the situation to the home of an unbeliever, who has invited the Christian for a meal. His advice in that situation is to eat whatever is served without questioning the source of the meat. However, notice that he goes on to say that if someone informs the Christian that the food had been sacrificed to an idol, he must not eat it in order to protect the conscience of the one who informed him.
The next question is who informed him? It could have been the host, who already has been identified as a non-Christian. Or it could have been another guest, who may have been a non-Christian or a weak Christian. Since it is doubtful that the issue would matter to a non-Christian, it is likely that the informant would be a Christian with a weak conscience. We already have seen in chapter eight, verses 7-13, that a strong Christian must be governed by the conscience of a weaker brother.
Now then, verses 29b-30 raise a very sticky interpretive problem. We have just seen that Paul insisted in chapter eight, and here in verses 27-29a, that one should not eat meat sacrificed to idols when a Christian with a weak conscience is present. And the reason was to preserve the conscience of the weaker brother. So we have to ask why he would say what he says in verses 29b-30. In those verses, Paul seems to be arguing that his liberty is more important than the conscience of the weaker brother. Fee lists five different ways that various scholars have dealt with it. We are not going to plow through those various views. Usually, when one sees so many possible explanations, it means that there is no good explanation available.
In verses 10:31-11:1 Paul provides a kind of summary with a series of commands. First, whatever you do, do it to the glory of God. Second, give offense to no one: not Jews, not Greeks (meaning non-Jews), and not the church. And third, “be imitators of me.” And the behaviors he wants them to imitate are given. He tries to please everyone in everything he does. He does not seek his own advantage, but seeks the advantage of the many. And his particular interest as an evangelist is to save as many people as possible.
The next section of the epistle, 11:2-16, concerns the topic, Men and Women in Worship. Now that Paul has completed his arguments against participation in pagan worship, he turns to strong criticisms of the Christian worship practices in the Corinthian church. Once again the information likely is coming from their letter. But first he praises them. It appears that he wants them to know up front that his feelings towards them are not all negative.
Notice in 11:2 that Paul praises them for two things. First, he praises them for remembering him “in everything,” whatever that means. At the very least it means that they have shown respect for their memories of him, in spite of their attachment to Apollos or other preachers.
And second, he praises them for maintaining the “traditions” that he had delivered to them. Again it is not altogether clear what he means by “traditions.” But it likely refers to the basics of the Christian faith that he preached to them. He praises them, because they have respected and maintained what he taught them, even though he must now correct them at several points.
Then beginning at verse three Paul uses the word “head” metaphorically to deal with three relationships, namely, Christ and man, man and woman, and God and Christ. Paul is concerned about several matters relating to public worship, as we shall see as we move on from here through chapter 14. And the first has to do with public worship and head coverings. Thus we have the beginning of Paul’s first corrective of Corinthian worship.
Unfortunately, this is a very difficult passage to interpret. Much debate has surrounded Paul’s use of the term “head” here. He obviously is setting forth a general principle about headship. But we must ask what Paul meant by that concept. There are two basic interpretations.
The first basic interpretation we might call the “traditional” one. It is that God intended the term “head” to mean an authority to whom one is subordinate. Therefore the basic meaning of the verse would be Christ is subordinate to God; man is subordinate to Christ; and woman is subordinate to man.
The second basic interpretation is that “head” means source, in the sense of origin. From whom does one come? In this interpretation the meaning would be: Christ has come from God; man has come from Christ; and the woman has come from man.
Under either interpretation, the clause, “the head of Christ is God,” refers to Christ as incarnate. That is to say, the traditional view states that Jesus is subordinate to God because he became a man. And the source view says that Christ came from (originated from) God when he became a man.
The clause, “the head of every man is Christ,” has two interpretations under the source view. First, Christ can be the source of man in the sense of his being the agent of physical creation (John 1:3). Or second, Christ can be the source of man in the sense that he is the source of his new Christian life. Both of those statements are true. The question is which of them did Paul mean?
The other clause literally reads, “the head of a woman is the man.” I remind you that the two basic views are that man has authority over woman, or that man is the source of woman. The meaning of the authority view is self-explanatory. According to the source view, man is the source of woman, because Eve was created from Adam’s side. This is supported by verses eight and 12.
I agree with Barrett and Fee that the best interpretation of “head” is source rather than authority. The source interpretation seems more plausible to me in light of verses 8-9 and 11. In those verses Paul definitely speaks about woman’s creation from the man. If one chooses to take the traditional view, it seems to me that it is important to establish that subordination of women to men does not imply inequality or inferiority any more than Jesus’ subordination to the Father implies inequality or inferiority.