Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
A Bible Study Based upon the Homilies of St John Chrysostom (SJC)
Study Guide – September 19, 2023 – 1st Corinthians 11.2-16 Session 27 – Homily 26
Prayer before reading of the Holy Scriptures: Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments so that, having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things which are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good and life giving Spirit, always now and forever and to the ages of ages.
- Saint Paul’s style is to cater each teaching to the situation. This sets up ‘how’ he will deal with head coverings – SJC Thus when the offense is admitted, he both accuses vehemently and threatens: but when it is questioned, he first proves it and then rebukes. And what was admitted, he aggravates: but what was likely to be disputed, he shows to be admitted.
- We are not only expected to ‘not be bad’ but we ‘should be good’ – SJC he not only withdraws them from the several crimes, but invites them also to their contraries. Thus he said not only that one must not commit fornication, but likewise that one ought to exhibit great holiness. Wherefore he added, Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit.
- Saint Paul had already addressed head coverings in person. Obviously not everyone was obedient – SJC Since then he had already admonished them concerning these things when present, and some perhaps listened to him and others disobeyed; therefore in his letter also again, he foments the place, like a physician, by his mode of addressing them, and so corrects the offense.
- Not everything Saint Paul taught was written down – SJC It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves.
- Saint Paul elevates head coverings to a spiritual discourse about the nature of God – SJC This is his account of the reason of the thing, and he states it to make the weaker more attentive. He indeed that is faithful, as he ought to be, and steadfast, does not require any reason or cause of those things which are commanded him, but is content with the ordinance alone. But he that is weaker, when he also learns the cause, then both retains what is said with more care and obeys with much readiness.
- We must be careful NOT to think comparisons between us and God are interchangeable – SJC So that we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God. For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow.
- The woman is not lower in power like a slave – SJC For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master. For what if the wife be under subjection to us? It is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor.
- The issue of head coverings is about mutual respect of God – SJC Symbols many and diverse have been given both to man and woman; to him of rule, to her of subjection: and among them this also, that she should be covered, while he has his head bare. If now these be symbols you see that both err when they disturb the proper order, and transgress the disposition of God, and their own proper limits, both the man falling into the woman’s inferiority, and the woman rising up against the man by her outward habiliments.
- Nature is created by God. Since women and men are naturally different, it is wrong to interchange them – SJC But when I say Nature, I mean God. For He it is Who created Nature. When therefore you overturn these boundaries, see how great injuries ensue.
- It is wrong reject your glory in exchange for another – SJC But if any say, Nay, how can this be a shame to the woman, if she mount up to the glory of the man? we might make this answer; She does not mount up, but rather falls from her own proper honor. Since not to abide within our own limits and the laws ordained of God, but to go beyond, is not an addition but a diminuation.
- Head coverings are a symbol of our relationship with God and each other – SJC For the ruler when he comes before the king ought to have the symbol of his rule. As therefore no ruler without military girdle and cloak, would venture to appear before him that has the diadem: so neither do thou without the symbols of your rule, (one of which is the not being covered,) pray before God, lest you insult both yourself and Him that has honored you.
- Men and women need each other. Neither can exist without the other – SJC Thus, because he had given great superiority to the man, having said that the woman is of him and for him and under him; that he might neither lift up the men more than was due nor depress the women, see how he brings in the correction, saying, Howbeit neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. Examine not, I pray, says he, the first things only, and that creation. Since if you enquire into what comes after, each one of the two is the cause of the other; or rather not even thus each of the other, but God of all.
- Even nature and other cultures show men and women are different – SJC His constant practice of stating commonly received reasons he adopts also in this place, betaking himself to the common custom, and greatly abashing those who waited to be taught these things from him, which even from men’s ordinary practice they might have learned.
- It is sinful to oppose out of contentiousness – SJC It is then contentiousness to oppose these things, and not any exercise of reason. Notwithstanding, even thus it is a measured sort of rebuke which he adopts, to fill them the more with self-reproach; which in truth rendered his saying the more severe.
LIFE APPLICATION: Our relationships should reflect God
- How we live should be just as important as how we dress – SJC For if one ought not to have the head bare, but everywhere to carry about the token of authority, much more is it becoming to exhibit the same in our deeds.
- Look at your own failings rather than others’ – SJC But let us not do thus nor enquire into the things enjoined on others, when we are charged with regard to our own: for neither will your obtaining a partner in the charges free you from the blame: but look to one thing only, how you may rid yourself of those charges which lie against yourself.
- Be obedient to God even if others are not – SJC For this is especially to obey God, not to transgress the law even when suffering things contrary to it. And by the same rule, he that being beloved loves, is not reckoned to do any great thing. But he that waits upon a person who hates him, this above all is the man to receive a crown.
- We should focus on our duties rather than the duties of others – SJC So also was it with those of old time. Each was employed in fulfilling his own duty, not in exacting that of his neighbor.
- Men should not beat their wives – SJC And I say not this for a wife to be beaten; far from it: for this is the extremest affront, not to her that is beaten, but to him who beats.
- A man is a wild beast if he beats his wife – SJC For surely it comes of extreme lawlessness when your partner of life, she who in the most intimate relations and in the highest degree, is united with you; when she, like a base slave, is dishonored by you. Wherefore also such a man, if indeed one must call him a man and not rather a wild beast, I should say, was like a parricide and a murderer of his mother.
- It is a great honor to rule with grace – SJC For therefore were thou ordained to be ruler; and were assigned to her in place of a head, that you might bear with the weakness of her that is set under you. Make then your rule glorious. And glorious it will be when the subject of it meets with no dishonor from you.
- Strive always for peace at home – SJC Since your wife is to you both a harbor, and a potent healing charm to rejoice your heart. Well then: if you shall free your harbor from winds and waves, you shall enjoy much tranquility on your return from the market-place: but if you fill it with clamor and tumult, thou dost but prepare for yourself a more grievous shipwreck.
SEND OFF! Compared to the secular life, a peaceful family brings blessings from God
Compared with this, let house, and slaves, and money, and lands, and the business itself of the state, be less in our account. And let it be more valuable than all in our eyes that she who with us sits at the oars should not be in mutiny and disunion with us. For so shall our other matters proceed with a favoring tide, and in spiritual things also we shall find ourselves much the freer from hindrance, drawing this yoke with one accord; and having done all things well, we shall obtain the blessings laid up in store; unto which may we all attain, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,