Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What Does 1 Corinthians 11:26-32 Mean For Us Today?

1 Corinthians 11:26-32:
26 ὁσάκις γὰρ ἐὰν ἐσθίητε τὸν ἄρτον τοῦτον καὶ τὸ ποτήριον πίνητε, τὸν θάνατον τοῦ κυρίου καταγγέλλετε, ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ.
27 Ὥστε ὃς ἂν ἐσθίῃ τὸν ἄρτον ἢ πίνῃ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦ κυρίου ἀναξίως, ἔνοχος ἔσται τοῦ σώματος καὶ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ κυρίου.
28 δοκιμαζέτω δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἑαυτόν, καὶ οὕτως ἐκ τοῦ ἄρτου ἐσθιέτω καὶ ἐκ τοῦ ποτηρίου πινέτω:
29 ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα.
30 διὰ τοῦτο ἐν ὑμῖν πολλοὶ ἀσθενεῖς καὶ ἄρρωστοι καὶ κοιμῶνται ἱκανοί.
31 εἰ δὲ ἑαυτοὺς διεκρίνομεν, οὐκ ἂν ἐκρινόμεθα:
32 κρινόμενοι δὲ ὑπὸ [τοῦ] κυρίου παιδευόμεθα, ἵνα μὴ σὺν τῷ κόσμῳ κατακριθῶμεν.

1 Corinthians 11:26-32:
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of (subject to, answerable for) the body and the blood of the Lord.
28 But let a person examine (test) (δοκιμάζω) himself, and in this way let him eat from the bread and let him drink from the cup.
29 For the one who eats and drinks, if (because, when) he does not recognize (distinguish, evaluate, judge) (διακρίνω) the body, eats and drinks judgment against himself.
30 Because of this, many are weak and sick among you, and quite a few have died.
31 But if we were evaluating (judging, recognizing, distinguishing) (διακρίνω) ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But if (when) we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, in order that we will not be condemned with the world. - Lexham English Bible, with some alternate translations given ( )

I have the following questions about this passage:

1. Does the passage mean that in the author's (i.e., Paul's) time people became weak or sick, or died, because they took the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner or without recognizing the body or while not properly evaluating themselves?

- If "No," then what does the passage mean?

- If "Yes," does the passage mean that people today can become weak or sick, or can die, if they take the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner or without recognizing the body or while not properly evaluating themselves? If you say this can happen today, do or did you personally know people who became weak or sick, or died, because they did or didn't do these things? If so, please elaborate.

2. If this passage is about people becoming weak or sick, or dying, for taking the Lord's Table while wrongly doing or not doing these things, should we give a warning about this today when we have communion? Why or why not?

3. What does it mean to "not recognize / distinguish / evaluate / judge the body" (verse 29)?

4. Does changing the one loaf and the one cup to tiny individual preformed crackers and thimbles of grape juice impact this passage or its applicability to us in any way?


  1. Part 1

    Disclaimer: not a theologian

    1. . Does the passage mean...
    I think people did get sick and die, just as Paul says. I think it is also possible that people today could also get sick and die for partaking in an unworthy manner. But I don't think that always and necessarily happens. I think it is possible that these immediate serious consequences were given as an example of the seriousness of the transgression, not as a precedent for what would immediately happen to everyone else who did the same thing - think Ananias and Sephira.

    But the fact that God *might not* allow everyone to suffer the immediate consequences, doesn't mean the transgression is any less grievous. And so I believe we should try to understand what the transgression is in this instance so that we don't do it -- which is what you are doing.

    2. ..., should we give a warning..
    should be taken quite seriously and all Christians should be made to understood that reflection and repentance are a necessary part of it. It is true Jesus doesn't mention that part, only Paul -- but did Jesus really need to mention it? For us to not consider our hearts toward God and towards others at a time set aside to recall His sacrifice is unthinkable.
    I have been to churches where they just lay out the elements on a couple of tables and you are supposed to go up during a worship song to the one nearest you to partake -- this is without any instruction as to what communion means or how it is to be taken. This practice bothers me. I am not saying they are heretics, lol. I am saying that they seem (to me) to be treating very lightly something that should not be taken lightly. They do this because they don't seem to understand the significance. I can't say that I completely understand the significance, either, but I know there IS significance. That fact is evident in the scripture you quote and others.

    The word communion is a Latin derived word but as you know, koinonia was the original Greek word. It can, of course, mean commune, partake, fellowship, etc. A non-sacramentalist would look upon the partaking of the table as more of a metaphorical reenactment of something that already happened in time but continues to affect us. A sacramentalist, on the other hand, would consider it a true partaking, with the actual partaking accomplished through the act itself. But both would consider that it has something to do with a partaking of Christ together with the other members that make up the Body of Christ (though we accept or reject Christ as individuals, we can't really partake of Christ without partaking of each other because there is a real communal sense in the gospel - we are baptized into one body, and each part of the body works together to be the whole body). In communion, we are celebrating (in a sense) not only our unity with Christ but our unity with each other.

    Therefore, to partake of the table without examining your heart or while you don't treat others in the Body of Christ with love and respect is wrong and defeats the whole purpose. Jesus asked the Father to make us one, as He and the Father are One. I cannot experience true and meaningful Oneness with the Godhead if I allow sin in my heart: I cannot experience true and meaningful oneness with others if I don't love and respect them. So, again, I would say, communion “taken” while there is discord within the Body or while there is unconfessed sin in a heart is not communion at all. And going through the motions of enacting that wonderful thing that Christ did for us without looking to ourselves and others is, I would say, not just your normal transgression, but sacriligious, which is why Paul takes it so seriously.


  2. Part 2

    ] 3. . What does it mean to "not recognize / distinguish / evaluate / judge the body"

    Not recognizing the body could mean 1) not recognizing and respecting other members of the body (a part of communion, as stated above) or 2) just recognizing that we shouldn’t partake of the table when we have sin in our lives because of the seriousness of the sacrifice.

    I was taught the typical explanation that the Corinthian church observed communion during the “love feasts,” sort of church dinners. But the love feasts became occasions for bad behavior, including drunkenness and more importantly (!) a lack of care for the poorer members. So I tend to think of this scripture as asking us to make sure our actions and attitudes toward others in the body are right before we partake of THE BODY (and blood).

    4. Does changing the one loaf and the one cup to tiny individual preformed crackers and thimbles of grape juice impact this passage or its applicability to us in any way?

    It certainly adds layers to the metaphor/sacrament, making the meaning less obvious. Still, the grape juice (or wine!) presumably comes from the same bottle or at least the same manufacturer and lot, and the crackers in from the same baker, Even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t consider such communion invalid because the Christian who understands the significance can still make the connection (though I personally prefer a shared cup of wine (not grape juice, lol) and one loaf). Some pure sacramentalists claim we should be stricter about this since they consider the physical elements to be necessary to the very real thing that is happening, Anglicans, who wouldn't think of using grape juice in thimble cups, use preformed bread (that tastes more like styrofoam than matzah) and Catholics use only one combined element so I don't think they have room to criticize others for using thimble cups, grape juice, etc.