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1 Corinthians 11:17-33 – Discerning the Body in the Lord’s Supper

Summary

Reports of some getting drunk and others going away hungry at the Lord's Supper have reached Paul. To instruct the Corinthians in the proper observance of the sacrament, Paul recalls the institution of the Lord's Supper by Jesus, and he urges the Corinthians to welcome one another and thus demonstrate their unity with one another in the body of Christ.

Analysis

Paul complains again of factions within the Corinthian congregation. It seems that some people-probably the more wealthy members who are free to begin supper before sundown-are having plenty to eat and drink, while others-probably day laborers who arrive later-are going away hungry. Instead of practicing the Lord's Supper as an occasion for leveling social status distinctions and other markers of the "wisdom of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:20), the Corinthians are reinforcing the standard social divisions by means of their religious practices.

To speak against their practice, Paul reminds them of the history of the supper and exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves and to discern the body lest they eat in an unworthy manner and bring judgment on themselves. In this context, "discerning the body" probably means paying attention to the needs of others as much as to one's own needs. "The body" is the body of Christ, present not only in the element of bread which everyone eats, but also in the social body of believers who gather for the meal. When Paul counsels the Corinthians to "wait for one another" (1 Corinthians 11:33), he is offering advice for how to remove the distinction between those with the luxury of arriving early to eat and drink their fill and those who must arrive later and risk going away hungry.

1 Corinthians 11:17-33

Abuses at the Lord’s Supper

17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for* you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Partaking of the Supper Unworthily

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink* without discerning the body,* eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.* 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined* so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters,* when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

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10 February 2011

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