SHOULD WE EAT THE "LORD'S SUPPER"?

In I Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17 through 34, Paul gives the Church at Corinth some corrective instructions regarding an institution he calls the "Lord's Supper":

I CORINTHIANS 11:17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (NKJV)

What was Paul saying to the Corinthian Church in this passage of Scripture? What was he criticizing them for? Let's take a detailed look at this text, verse by verse, to determine what Paul was actually telling the Corinthians.

v. 17 Now in giving these instructions [paraggellon] I do not praise you, since you come together [sunerchesthe] not for the better but for the worse.

paraggellon - The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (EDNT) says both verb and noun forms of this word "refer to the action of directing a person or group of persons with authority, in the sense of instructing, commanding . . . and instruction, order, command respectively" (vol. 3, p. 16).

sunerchesthe - This verb is a form of the Greek sunerchomai. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vine's) says the root word means "'to come together' (sun, 'together,' erchomai, 'to come') . . . It is frequently used of 'coming together,' especially of the 'gathering' of a local church, 1 Cor. 11:17-18, 20, 33-34 . . ." (NT, p. 42).

Paul was disappointed in what he had heard about the problems in Corinth. Instead of benefiting from gathering together for worship and fellowship, these assemblies had actually harmed the Corinthian Church. Paul's instructions about the Lord's Supper that follow were meant to remedy these problems.

v. 18 For first of all, when you come together [sunerchomenon] as a church, I hear that there are divisions [schismata] among you, and in part I believe it.

sunerchomenon - See note on sunerchesthe in verse 17 above.

schismata - A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD) says that this word literally means a "'tear' or a 'crack,' as 'in a garment' or 'in a stone.' However, figuratively it means 'division, dissension, schism'" (p. 797). Paul uses this same word in I Corinthians 1:10, where he says "Now I plead with you, brethren . . . that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schismata] among you . . ."

Paul had heard from Chloe's household of the cliques that had developed in the Corinthian Church. When they met together to worship and fellowship, several different subgroups were apparent. As Paul pointed out at the beginning of his epistle (I Cor. 1:11-12), these groups had caused division in the body of Christ.

v. 19 For there must also be factions [haireseis] among you, that those who are approved [dokimoi] may be recognized among you.

haireseis - The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) states: "The NT meaning of hairesis follows the usage in Hel[lenistic] G[ree]k and Jud[aism]. In Acts, where 6 of the 9 examples are found, it refers to the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees as groups within the Jewish community . . . From the Jewish point of view, the Christians too are described as belonging to a hairesis . . ." (vol. 1, p. 535). EDNT says of this word that "in agreement with the usage of Josephus . . . and other ancient writers . . . the meaning which emerges is doctrine, school, or (religious) party - without any negative connotation." Paul, however, "uses the word . . . in an emphatically derogatory manner: in 1 Cor 11:18f. parallel to [schismata] to mean dissensions, divisions . . ." (vol. 1, p. 40).

dokimoi - The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) says that the root word, dokimos, "means 'tested,' and thus a. 'reliable,' and b. 'esteemed,' 'valuable' (whether persons or things). . . . The testing sifts out the dókimoi (1 Cor. 11:19), i.e., authentic believers who shun factions . . ." (abridged ed., pp. 181, 182).

Here Paul uses haireseis, from which the English "heresies" is derived, to depict the splits in the Corinthian Church. From the description of the problem that follows his opening rebuke, it appears that he was not using this word to indicate division due to false teachings. Rather, Paul was probably alluding to a problem defined earlier in I Corinthians 1:12, which shows that the Corinthians had separated themselves into groups based on which teacher they preferred (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Christ). There is some indication that these splits also reflected the social status of the brethren (I Cor. 11:22). Ironically, Paul says that it was necessary for this situation to occur, so that those in the congregation who were truly following the example of Christ would be made manifest.

v. 20 Therefore when you come together [sunerchomenon] in one place [epi to auto], it is not to eat the Lord's Supper [Kuriakon Deipnon].

sunerchomenon - See note on sunerchesthe in verse 17 above.

epi to auto - EDNT states that the phrase epi to auto "means at the same place . . ." (vol. 1, pp. 179-180).

Kuriakon Deipnon - Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible says: "In the early days the Lord's Supper took place in the course of a communal meal. All brought what food they could, and it was shared together" (p. 594). The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary states: "No form of administering the ordinance is specified in Scripture. Early practice by the apostolic Church suggests, however, that it was observed with some regularity . . ." ("Lord's Supper," p. 492). Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi writes that the Lord's Supper ". . . was not celebrated, according to the New Testament, on a specific weekly day . . ." (From Sabbath To Sunday, pp. 75-76).

Patterned after Christ's last meal with his disciples on the night before he died, the institution Paul called "the Lord's Supper" was originally a frequent fellowship meal shared among the brethren, followed by participation in the symbolic bread and wine. This fellowship meal was also known as the agape, or love feast.

The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (DPHL) says of the love feast: "The use of the term agape ('love') to refer to a Christian meal is rare, with Jude 12 offering the only explicit reference in the NT. There is no evidence from the NT period to suggest that the love feast was a separate meal from the Lord's Supper; rather, love feast and Lord's Supper refer to the same event . . . All we know from Paul is that the actual celebration of the Lord's Supper was linked with, and was perhaps an extension of, the so-called agape, a common meal, which Christians in a given locality were in the habit of sharing together. . . . Paul does not commend the Corinthian gathering for the community meal: 'when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse' (1 Cor 11:17). Apparently the abuse was sufficiently abhorrent that the divisions and factions rendered the meal merely one of many and not the Lord's Supper ('it is not really the Lord's Supper,' 1 Cor 11:20) . . ." ("Love Feast," pp. 578, 579).

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of this meal: "Although the word agape was used constantly in the sense of love-feast in the postcanonical literature from the time of Ignatius onward, it is found in the NT only in Jude 12 . . . For the existence of the Christian common meal, however, we have abundant NT evidence. In the opinion of the great majority of scholars the agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of the feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord's command, and after thanksgiving to God were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Christ and as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and through Him with one another" ("Agape," vol. 1, p. 66).

Although the Corinthian congregation gathered together as a Church to partake of the Lord's Supper, Paul stated that because of their conduct and attitudes, the ceremony they kept was corrupted. Therefore, it could not properly be called the Lord's Supper.

v. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper [deipnon] ahead [prolambanei] of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

deipnon - EDNT says that "in the NT [deipnon] most often designates the ordinary meal, to which guests could be invited . . . In John 13:2, 4, Jesus' farewell meal is called a [deipnon]. . . . In 1 Cor 11:20 the common meal linked with the Eucharist is called [kuriakon deipnon], or Lord's Supper. This term used by Paul . . . was apparently known . . . Paul criticizes the Corinthians' practice of separation in eating this meal . . . The common meal continued for a short time in the early Church as the agape feast . . ." (vol. 1, pp. 281, 282).

prolambanei - NIDNTT says that "1 Cor. 11:21 speaks of individuals going ahead with their own meals (to idion deipnon prolambanei) at the Lord's Supper; their actions are unbrotherly and unworthy, for they are doing in advance on their own what all should do together" (vol. 3, p. 750). EDNT says that in this verse, prolambanei is used temporally: "'each one goes ahead [at the gathering for the Lord's Supper] with his own meal,' i.e., before all have arrived . . ." (vol. 3, p. 158).

Paul's use of deipnon clearly shows that the Lord's Supper included a fellowship meal. The Abingdon Bible Commentary (Abingdon) states, "As was usual at Greek dinner parties, each person brought his own provisions" (p. 1186). Those who were well-to-do usually brought extra portions for the poor, so that all could enjoy the meal fully.

DPHL states: "The basic problem appears to have arisen out of tensions in the church between the poor and the rich. Since there were no church buildings, meals were held in the houses of church members. The believers met together in groups of a maximum size dictated by the size of the houses which were at their disposal. It has been convincingly shown that the groups would have met in the homes of the rich (since they alone could accommodate them). These occasions were full meals with plenty of food and drink - at least for some members. The rich brought plentiful food for themselves (including meat), whereas the poorer members had to make do with their own scanty fare . . . Despite uncertainty over the precise circumstances, the main point stands out quite clearly. There was over-indulgence on the part of the rich and feelings of envy on the part of the poor who were made to feel inferior (cf. 1 Cor 12:15). For Paul this was inconsistent with the intended character of the meal. Both hunger and drunkenness were out of place in a church meal. Rowdy festivity and social divisions alike ruined the occasion" ("Lord's Supper," p. 571).

Paul criticized the Corinthians for their carnality in observing this spiritual occasion. Instead of Christian fellowship, some brethren were only seeking to satisfy their fleshly desires. Some were eating before the entire group had arrived. This caused the late-arriving poor who had been able to bring only little or nothing with them to go hungry. Others were drinking to excess and getting intoxicated, transforming a spiritual event into carnal revelry.

v. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

DPHL says that "Paul laid down that the rich should eat privately in their own houses if they wished to have a larger meal or more expensive fare, and thus avoid importing social divisions into the meeting of the church. Thus Paul was not counseling that the occasion should cease to be a meal and become what it subsequently became in the church generally, namely the token consumption of a morsel of bread and a sip of wine" ("Lord's Supper," p. 572).

Paul chastised those who weren't waiting for all the brethren to arrive before they began eating the Lord's Supper. He rhetorically asked them if they disdained the Church of God and the poorer members of the congregation. The implication is clear. By their actions, those who were doing these things were showing contempt for the Church and the poor brethren.

v. 23 For I received [parelabon] from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;

parelabon - This is a form of the Greek paralambano; Vine's says that this compound word means "to receive from another" (NT, p. 510).

Paul begins here with a remarkable statement; he declared that Christ personally revealed to him the information he was about explain. By stating that this event occurred on the night the Messiah was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, he definitely identifies it as the "last supper," which the Lord's Supper is obviously patterned after.

v. 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance [anamnesin] of Me."

anamnesin - The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (NAGL) defines this Greek noun as "remembrance; a commemoration, memorial" (p. 23). NIDNTT says that traditionally, this word has "been generally understood to mean that the Lord's Supper was Jesus' appointed means of being present in the hearts and minds of the community of the church" (vol. 3, pp. 243-244).

Here Paul gives Christ's explanation of the symbolism of the bread, which was to be eaten in remembrance of the Messiah. The observance of this memorial was intended to constantly remind us that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice and died for each of us.

v. 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as [hosakis] you drink it, in remembrance [anamnesin] of Me."

hosakis - EDNT says this word means "as often as, every time that." It goes on to record that there are "3 occurrences in the NT, always in combination [hosakis ean]: 1 Cor 11:25f., in connection with the Lord's Supper; Rev 11:6: . . . 'whenever they wanted'" (vol. 2, p. 536). BAGD shows that this adverb was used in the form hossaki by the early Greek author Homer. It was also used in the New Testament form hosakis in the writings of Lysias (5th-4th century B.C.), Plato (4th century B.C.), and Josephus (1st century A.D.), as well as in various papyri and inscriptions (p. 585). The uncontested meaning of hosakis is "as often as," denoting an event of variable yet frequent occurrence.

anamnesin - See note on verse 24 above.

Paul now provides Christ's interpretation of the wine. As he says earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, the frequent partaking of these symbols should remind us that "we have been bought at a price" (I Cor. 6:20; 7:23).

v. 26 For as often as [hosakis] you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim [kataggellete] the Lord's death till He comes.

hosakis - See note on verse 25 above.

kataggellete - TDNT says of the root word, kataggello, that "it is always sacral" and "normally 'proclamation' is the meaning;" however "teaching is included" (abridged ed., p. 12).

Paul, ending the quotation, says that as often as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we should remember the selfless sacrifice of our Savior. Christ willingly suffered a cruel and humiliating death in order to redeem us from the penalty of sin. Our participation in this sacred ceremony proclaims our faith in the sanctifying power of Christ's broken body and spilled blood.

v. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [anaxios] will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

anaxios - Vine's says this word "is used in 1 Cor. 11:27, of partaking of the Lord's Supper 'unworthily,' i.e., treating it as a common meal, the bread and cup as common things, not apprehending their solemn symbolic import" (NT, pp. 654-655).

Now Paul makes his principal point regarding the problem he is addressing. He tells those in the Corinthian congregation who have disregarded the spiritual aspects of the Lord's Supper, making it simply a fleshly feast, that they are guilty of disdaining the sacrifice of Christ.

v. 28 But let a man examine [dokimazeto] himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

dokimazeto - This word is a form of dokimazo. The Theological Lexicon of the New Testament says the root word "means 'discern' . . . The Pauline innovation is to apply this verb, with a moral and religious meaning, to Christians themselves: 'Examine yourselves.' . . . 1 Cor 11:28 before taking communion, people must examine their conscience in order not to partake unworthily ([anaxios]); they must discern the true nature of this sacred meal, which is entirely different from an ordinary repast" (vol. 1, p. 356).

Here Paul admonishes the Corinthians to personally be cognizant of the character and meaning of the Lord's Supper. This was designed to ensure that they are partaking of it in the right attitude with the proper understanding of what it represented.

v. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner [anaxios] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

anaxios - See note on verse 27 above.

Those who desecrated this ceremony by partaking of it in an unworthy manner were, in effect, disregarding the sacrifice of Christ. This verse calls to mind Hebrews 10:29, which says, "Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?"

v. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

Paul proclaims here that the cause of much of the sickness and even death afflicting the Corinthian congregation was because of their carnal behavior at these spiritual events.

v. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

Paul emphasized that the Corinthians should pay heed to the spiritual meaning of the Lord's Supper when they partook of it. If they would do that, God would not have to chastise the assembly with the physical ailments and even death that plagued them.

v. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

However, Paul went on to say that God is only smiting them with sickness and death in order to point out their mistakes and to encourage repentance.

v. 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together [sunerchomenoi] to eat, wait for [ekdechesthe] one another.

sunerchomenoi - See note on sunerchesthe in verse 17 above.

ekdechesthe - NIDNTT states that the root "ekdechomai means await, wait for" (vol. 2, p. 245).

Abingdon succinctly states Paul's solution for this problem: "The practical issue may be summed up in a word: Wait, to begin the supper together (v. 33). He whose appetite is not under control must have a meal at home" (p. 1186).

v. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together [sunerchesthe] for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

sunerchesthe - See note on verse 17 above.

Some scholars have taken this verse, along with I Corinthians 11:22, as Paul's command to separate participation in the symbolic bread and wine from the preceding meal. However, this conclusion ignores both Paul's stated solution to this problem in I Corinthians 11:33 ("wait for one another when you come together to eat") and history.

The New Unger's Bible Dictionary says that the fellowship meal was continued until "the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 391) decreed that the Eucharist should be taken while fasting. Later several councils forbade its being held in the church buildings. Vestiges of the practice remained as late as the Council of Basle, in the fifteenth century" ("Agape," p. 32).

CONCLUSION

Many have mistakenly identified the Lord's Supper with the Passover meal. However, Paul never mentions the observance of Passover in these verses. He was obviously not talking about the Passover, which is an annual event. Rather, he is giving instructions regarding the proper manner for partaking of the Lord's Supper, which consisted of a frequent fellowship meal followed by the symbolic bread and wine. Instead of abolishing the meal that was eaten before the taking of the symbols, Paul gives instructions about how this occasion is to be properly observed. He tells everyone to wait for all the brethren to arrive before beginning the Lord's Supper. Those who, because of hunger, could not wait were told to eat at their own houses before coming together to partake of the Lord's Supper. Today, the Lord's Supper remains as valid and essential for God's people as it was 1,900 years ago during the ministry of the apostle Paul.

Bryan T. Huie
September 13, 1997

Revised: April 8, 2009

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