In this chapter Paul speaks about more practical issues with the church members in Corinth. As he does so, he reminds them “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (vs. 1). The rest of the chapter consists of two major issues: head coverings (vs. 2-16), and how to conduct the Lord’s Supper (vs. 17-34). He uses these as examples of improper worship, and as he speaks to these issues, he reminds them that all proper behavior must point back to Jesus Christ.
In the first instance he reminds early believers that they are to observe the “traditions” or “teachings” passed on to them about gender difference in worship. The passage reminds us that the “source” of everything comes from God (vs. 3). In Corinth the covering of the head was a gender distinction. In their sexually charged environment, a woman who did not cover her head was the same as a prostitute. How we worship brings honor or dishonor to God. For this reason, Paul argues, in the ancient world at least, a married woman ought to keep her head covered (vs. 10). This text has been interpreted many different ways throughout Christian history. Early Seventh-day Adventist pioneers argued for principles, instead of the idea that that all women should come to church with their head covered. Similarly, early leaders such as James White, objected to the idea that women should not speak in public (see his comment in Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, pg. 24).
Another source of “divisions” in Corinth concerns the administration of the Lord’s Supper. This is probably the earliest recounting of this practice in the early Christian Church (vs. 23-26), and these texts are used by ministers today in celebrating this Christian ordinance. We are reminded that these emblems are sacred, represent the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. As a pastor I have witnessed church conflicts resolved when both parties, following the counsel to “examine” oneself (vs. 28), reconciled with each other. I’ve also seen people drift away from the church, driven by bitterness, and unable to wrestle with sin in their life, which became noticeable by intentionally avoiding the Lord’s Supper. An old piece of ministerial advice that I came across (for young ministers) was that the health of a local congregation can be determined by the willingness of church members to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The truth remains the same today because the ordinance affirms Christ’s sacrificial atonement, and affirms our belief in the Second Advent of Jesus Christ (vs. 26). No wonder James White observed that the Lord’s Supper should be called the “Advent ordinance.”
Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Historical/Theological Studies
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies