1 Corinthians 11:16
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) But if any man seem to be contentious.—The argument, and the appeal to their own good sense having been completed, the Apostle now adds that if, after all, some one continues to argue the matter captiously, and is not satisfied with the reason given, the answer to such a one must be simply—We, the Apostles and the churches of God, have no such custom as that women should pray and teach with uncovered head. It has been suggested that the word “custom” refers, not to the uncovering the head, but to the “contention” just mentioned. But the former interpretation seems more natural; and the Apostle’s object here is, not so much to merely censure the contentious spirit, as to show how such an objector must be dealt with. It is noticeable that the appeal is made to the practice of the churches (plural), not the Church. Thus it is not the authority of the Church as such that is quoted, but it is the uniformity of practice in the several Christian churches that is appealed to. The Church in Corinth has no right to become exceptional.

It may be well to make two general remarks on the scope and bearing of this remarkable passage.

1. As St. Paul taught regarding Slavery (1Corinthians 7:21) that the object of Christianity was not to suddenly efface existing political arrangements, so he teaches here that Christianity did not seek to obliterate these social distinctions which were universally recognised. We know now how mighty an instrument Christ’s Religion has been in elevating the social condition of woman, but this has been accomplished by gradually leavening the world with Christian principle, and not by sudden external revolution. The arguments and illustrations which the Apostle here employs have a more abiding and a wider application than the particular case to which he applied them. They have been written “for our learning” as well as for the instruction of those to whom they were originally addressed. And the lesson which they teach us is, that Christianity did not come to unsex woman, but to raise, dignify, and ennoble her as woman—to abolish for ever her real wrongs, but not to yield to a revolutionary clamour for imaginary rights. Old and New Testament alike emphasise the truth that (as has been quaintly and truly said) “woman was not made from man’s head to be his ruler, nor from his feet to be his slave, but from his side to be his equal, and from beneath his strong arm to demand his protection.”

2. The influence of St. Paul’s instruction as to women not uncovering their heads in public worship has lasted long after the necessity for that particular expression of her relationship to man has passed away. While, in succeeding ages, again and again, some have forgotten the principles of the teaching, which are eternal, the particular application of them, which was only temporary, has been continuously and universally observed. Surely this is an illustration and evidence of the Divine Wisdom which withheld the apostolic writers from, as a rule, laying down minute directions for worship, or dogmatic formulas of faith. Men would, in a servile obedience to rules, have soon and completely forgotten the living principles on which they were based. To this day the universal custom in Christian places of worship, of women being covered and men uncovered, and the increasing revolt against the acknowledgment of the subordination of woman to man, of which that practice was originally the avowed symbol, is a striking proof of how the same spirit, which led Jews of old to be scrupulous in their observance of certain external ordinances, while forgetting the weighter matters of which they were to be the outward expression, was not merely a Jewish but a human weakness.

11:2-16 Here begin particulars respecting the public assemblies, ch. 1Co 14. In the abundance of spiritual gifts bestowed on the Corinthians, some abuses had crept in; but as Christ did the will, and sought the honour of God, so the Christian should avow his subjection to Christ, doing his will and seeking his glory. We should, even in our dress and habit, avoid every thing that may dishonour Christ. The woman was made subject to man, because made for his help and comfort. And she should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, which looked like a claim of being equal. She ought to have power, that is, a veil, on her head, because of the angels. Their presence should keep Christians from all that is wrong while in the worship of God. Nevertheless, the man and the woman were made for one another. They were to be mutual comforts and blessings, not one a slave, and the other a tyrant. God has so settled matters, both in the kingdom of providence and that of grace, that the authority and subjection of each party should be for mutual help and benefit. It was the common usage of the churches, for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was right that they should do so. The Christian religion sanctions national customs wherever these are not against the great principles of truth and holiness; affected singularities receive no countenance from any thing in the Bible.But if any man seem to be contentious - The sense of this passage is probably this: "If any man, any teacher, or others, "is disposed" to be strenuous about this, or to make it a matter of difficulty; if he is disposed to call in question my reasoning, and to dispute my premises and the considerations which I have advanced, and to maintain still that it is proper for women to appear unveiled in public, I would add that in Judea we have no such custom, neither does it prevail among any of the churches. This, therefore, would be a sufficient reason why it should not be done in Corinth, even if the abstract reasoning should not convince them of the impropriety. It would be singular; would be contrary to the usual custom; would offend the prejudices of many and should, therefore, be avoided."

We have no such custom - We the apostles in the churches which we have elsewhere founded; or we have no such custom in Judea. The sense is, that it is contrary to custom there for women to appear in public unveiled. This custom, the apostle argues, ought to be allowed to have some influence on the church of Corinth, even though they should not be convinced by his reasoning.

Neither the churches of God - The churches elsewhere. It is customary there for the woman to appear veiled. If at Corinth this custom is not observed, it will be a departure from what has elsewhere been regarded as proper; and will offend these churches. Even, therefore, if the reasoning is not sufficient to silence all cavils and doubts, yet the propriety of uniformity in the habits of the churches, the fear of giving offence should lead you to discountenance and disapprove the custom of your females appearing in public without their veil.

16. A summary close to the argument by appeal to the universal custom of the churches.

if any … seem—The Greek also means "thinks" (fit) (compare Mt 3:9). If any man chooses (still after all my arguments) to be contentious. If any be contentious and thinks himself right in being so. A reproof of the Corinthians' self-sufficiency and disputatiousness (1Co 1:20).

we—apostles: or we of the Jewish nation, from whom ye have received the Gospel, and whose usages in all that is good ye ought to follow: Jewish women veiled themselves when in public, according to Tertullian [Estius]. The former explanation is best, as the Jews are not referred to in the context: but he often refers to himself and his fellow apostles, by the expression, "we—us" (1Co 4:9, 10).

no such custom—as that of women praying uncovered. Not as Chrysostom, "that of being contentious." The Greek term implies a usage, rather than a mental habit (Joh 18:39). The usage of true "churches (plural: not, as Rome uses it, 'the Church,' as an abstract entity; but 'the churches,' as a number of independent witnesses) of God" (the churches which God Himself recognizes), is a valid argument in the case of external rites, especially, negatively, for example, Such rites were not received among them, therefore, ought not to be admitted among us: but in questions of doctrine, or the essentials of worship, the argument is not valid [Sclater] (1Co 7:17; 14:33).

neither—nor yet. Catholic usage is not an infallible test of truth, but a general test of decency.

If any man seem to be contentious; if any man hath a mind to quarrel out of a love to show his wit in discoursing what may be said on the other side, or out of a desire to hold up a party, and contradict us.

We have no such custom, of women’s praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered, or men’s praying or prophesying with their heads covered; or we have no such custom of contending for these little frivolous things;

neither any of the churches of God; and good Christians, in their practices, ought, in things of this nature, to have an eye and regard to the custom of their own church, and also of other Christian churches. Thus the apostle closeth this discourse, and proceedeth in the next verses to tax other abuses which were crept into this famous church. But if any man seem to be contentious,.... That is, if anyone will not be satisfied with reasons given, for men's praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered, and women's praying and prophesying with their heads covered; but will go on to raise objections, and continue carping and cavilling, showing that they contend not for truth, but victory, can they but obtain it any way; for my part, as if the apostle should say, I shall not think it worth my while to continue the dispute any longer; enough has been said to satisfy any wise and good man, anyone that is serious, thoughtful, and modest; and shall only add,

we have no such custom, nor the churches of God; meaning, either that men should appear covered, and women uncovered in public service, and which should have some weight with all those that have any regard to churches and their examples; or that men should be indulged in a captious and contentious spirit; a man that is always contending for contention sake, and is continually cavilling and carping at everything that is said and done in churches, and is always quarrelling with one person or another, or on account of one thing or another, and is constantly giving uneasiness, is not fit to be a church member; nor ought he to be suffered to continue in the communion of the church, to the disturbance of the peace of it. This puts me in mind of a passage in the Talmud (n).

"The Rabbans teach, that after the departure of R. Meir, R. Judah said to his disciples, do not let the disciples of R. Meir enter here, , "because they are contentious".''

(n) T. Bab. Nazir, fol. 49. 2. & Kiddushin, fol. 52. 2.

{13} But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

(13) Against those who are stubbornly contentious we have to oppose this, that the churches of God are not contentious.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 11:16. The apostle has done with the subject; but one word more of warning now against all controversy about it.

δοκεῖ] Vulg.: “si quis autem videtur contentiosus esse.” This would imply that sort of forbearing courtesy in the δοκεῖ, according to which one “videri aliquid esse, quam vere esse dicere maluit,” Fritzsche, a[1803] Matth. p. 129. Comp Frotscher, a[1805] Xen. Hier. p. 92. Sturz, Lex. Xen. I. p. 757 f. So de Wette and Winer, p. 570 [E. T. 766]. But one can see no reason for Paul’s choosing any such special delicacy of phrase. If, again, we understand the words to mean: if any one likes to be, or has pleasure in being, contentious (Luther, Grotius, Rückert), that is to confound the expression with the construction δοκεῖ μοι.[1806] The simplest explanation, and, at the same time, quite literally faithful, is, as in Matthew 3:9, Php 3:4 : if any one is of opinion, if he thinks, or is minded to be, etc.; but to import the notion of permission into the infinitive here, in connection with this rendering (Billroth), would be arbitrary, because without warrant from the text (Kühner, a[1807] Xen. Mem. ii. 1. 1).

ἡμεῖς τοιαύτην κ.τ.λ[1808]] declarative: Let him be told that we, etc. Comp Romans 11:18. See Winer, p. 575 [E. T. 773].

ἩΜΕῖς] I and those who are like-minded with me.

τοιαύτην συνήθ.] such a custom. Interpreters refer this either to the censured practice of the women being unveiled (Theodoret, Erasmus, Grotius, Bengel, Michaelis, Semler, Rosenmüller, Heydenreich, Flatt, Billroth, Olshausen, Ewald, Neander, Maier, Hofmann), or to the custom of contention (Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Beza, Calvin, Piscator, Estius, Calovius, and others, including Rückert and de Wette). The latter suits the immediate context, and is required by ἡμεῖς; hence we cannot, with Theophylact and Osiander, leave it an open question which of the two references should be preferred. The ΟὐΔῈ ΑἹ ἘΚΚΛ. Τ. ΘΕΟῦ is not against this view; for what is asserted is not that all individual members were free from the love of strife, but only that the churches as a whole were so. These last are distinguished by οὐδὲ αἱ ἐκκλ. τ. Θεοῦ from the individuals implied in ἡμεῖς. Neither does the expression ΣΥΝΉΘΕΙΑ throw any difficulty in the way of our interpretation; on the contrary, occurring as it does in this short concluding sentence of deprecation, it lends to it a certain point against the readers, some of whom seem to have allowed this vice of contentiousness to grow with them into a habit; it was their miserable custom!

The abnormal position of isolation, into which their controversial tendencies would bring them, should surely suffice to prevent their indulging them!

[1803] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1805] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1806] So, too, δοκῶ μοι, lubet, volo. See Ast, ad Plat. Phaed. p. 251. Also δέδοκταί μοι. See Ast, Lex. Plat. I. p. 552.

[1807] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1808] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.1 Corinthians 11:16 closes the discussion sharply, with its appeal to established Christian rule. If, after all that the Ap. has advanced in maintenance of the modest distinction between the sexes, any one is still minded to debate, he must be put down by authority—that of P. himself and his colleagues (ἡμεῖς), supported by universal Christendom; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Corinthians 14:37 ff.—δοκεῖ φιλόνεικος εἶναι, not “seems,” but “thinks (presumes; see parls.) to be contentious”; εἴ τις takes ind[1660] of the case supposed (as in 1 Corinthians 10:27), and too likely in quarrelsome Cor[1661] φιλόνεικος, not amans victoriœ (Est.) as if from νική, but avidus litium (from νεῖκος),—a disputer for disputation’s sake.—ἡμεῖς, in contrast with αἱ ἐκκλησίαι, means not “I and those likeminded” (Mr[1662]), but “I and my fellowministers” or “I and the Apostles generally” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6-13, 1 Corinthians 15:11, 2 Corinthians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 4:13, etc.).—τοιαύτην συνήθειαν, the custom described in 1 Corinthians 11:4 f. above, which gave rise to the whole discussion; not, as many understand it, the custom of being contentious (a temper, surely, rather than a custom): no one could think of the App. (ἡμεῖς) indulging such a habit! The advocates of feminine emancipation may have supposed that P., the champion of liberty, was himself on their side, and that the rejection of the veil was in vogue elsewhere; he denies both. For συνήθεια, Lat. con-suetudo, see 1 Corinthians 8:7; for αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τοῦ Θεοῦ, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 4:17, the pl[1663] conveying the idea of unanimity amongst many. Those who explain “such a custom” as that of “being contentious,” usually link this ver. with 1 Corinthians 11:17 ff. It is true that the σχίσματα of the sequel, like the ἔριδες of 1 Corinthians 1:11, tended to φιλονεικία; in truth the disputatiousness of the Cor[1664] ran into everything—a woman’s shawl, or the merits of the Arch-apostles!

[1660] indicative mood.

[1661] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[1662] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[1663] plural.

[1664] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.16. But if any man seem to be contentious] Some commentators refer these words to what follows; but it would seem best to apply them to what has gone before. The Apostle would deprecate further argument, and appeal to the custom of the Churches as decisive on a point of this kind. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 14:33.

we have no such custom, neither the churches of God] The word custom has been interpreted (1) as referring to contention, “it is not our custom to be contentious,” or (3) to the practice of permitting women to appear unveiled at the services of the Church. The latter yields the best sense. This appeal to the Churches must not be understood to imply that all Churches ought in all respects to have the same ritual. But in a matter such as this, involving the position of women in Christian society, it were far wiser for the Corinthian Church to follow the universal practice of Christendom.1 Corinthians 11:16. Εἰ δὲ, but if) A curt [abrupt] hint,[95] as at 1 Corinthians 14:37. Paul perceives, that some exceptions may be taken, but he authoritatively represses them.—δοκεῖ φιλόνεικος, seems contentious) A disputer of this sort might think that he was contending rightly; but Paul calls him contentious. This is what he says: If any one wishes to contend, and deems himself right in doing so. In this passage it is rather intended to teach the Corinthians modesty, than to bind all: comp. 2 Corinthians 2:9. For he especially restrains their φυσίωσιν, puffed up spirit: comp. 1 Corinthians 14:34-38.—ἡμεῖς, we) your teachers, of the Hebrew nation.—συνήθειαν, custom) that a woman should not cover her head, especially when she prays.—αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τοῦ Θεοῦ, the churches of God) which ought not to be despised, 1 Corinthians 14:36.

[95] The word in the original is præcisio, explained by Cicero to be a figure which rather gives a hint to the understanding, and leaves it to supply what is not expressed.—See De Or. iii. 53, Her. iv. 30.—T.Verse 16. - But if any man seem to be contentious. St. Paul cuts the question short, as though impatient of any further discussion of a subject already settled by instinctive decorum and by the common sense of universal usage. "Seem to be contentious" is (like the Latin videtur) only a courteous way of saying "is contentious." If any of you wish to be disputatious and quarrelsome about this minor matter of ritual, I must content myself with saying that he must take his own course (for a similar use of the euphemistic "seem," see Philippians 3:4; Hebrews 4:1; James 1:26). We have no such custom. The emphatic "we" means the apostles and the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem and Antioch. Such custom. Not referring to "contentiousness," but to the women appearing with uncovered heads. Neither the Churches of God. If you Corinthians prefer these abnormal practices in spite of reason, common sense, and my arguments, you must stand alone in your innovations upon universal Christian practice. But catholic custom is against your "self opinionated particularism." Custom

Not the custom of contentiousness, but that of women speaking unveiled. The testimonies of Tertullian and Chrysostom show that these injunctions of Paul prevailed in the churches. In the sculptures of the catacombs the women have a close-fitting head-dress, while the men have the hair short.

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