Discerning The Body

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:29 (ESV)

In my reading, I just saw this verse in a way I hadn’t seen it before.

The context of Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper has to do with how the Corinthian believers were moving away from unity and becoming more divided. They were sectarian. Their church consisted of different cliques where each would only associate with those who were entirely like-minded, and they would look down on everyone else (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). This did not have to do with differences over essential doctrine, but preferences over non-essentials such as favorite apostles and teachers (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:3-4), social groups (1 Corinthians 12:13), and differences over which ministries were more important (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

The result was that the church of Christ was not functioning as God would have it. Paul uses their way of taking the Lord’s Supper as an example. Each person was concerned only about himself or those in his clique rather than the entire assembly.

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.

– 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 (ESV)

As such, they were not really eating the Lord’s Supper, because it was to be eaten unselfishly. Jesus freely gave the wine and bread to all of His disciples… even Judas. These elements represented His blood and body which He freely gave to save them.

What I saw in verse 29 is that the body Paul is speaking of not Christ’s physical body, but His church, the body which consists of all believers. The context of the passage bears this out. Paul tells them to no longer think selfishly or cliquishly but to consider the entire body. Compare verse 29 with verses 33-34:

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:29 (ESV)

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another- if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home-so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. …

1 Corinthians 11:33-34 (ESV)

The warning in verse 29 is about not discerning all believers who are part of the body of Christ. They all had a right to this supper. It was not something to be hogged. Otherwise they would be judged.

Of course, I still think the traditional understanding of the verse is valid. We should be remembering what our salvation cost Jesus. But I don’t think that is what the verse is about. Otherwise Paul would have also included a warning about discerning Jesus’ blood.


Comments

Discerning The Body — 3 Comments

  1. (Some additional thoughts posted elsewhere…)

    It seems to me that Paul is speaking sarcastically in verse 19 (“For there also must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be revealed among you.”), considering the theme running throughout the book on the evils of sectarianism and the plea for unity (i.e. 1:10-12, 3:3-9, 21, 10:16-17). The way I think this played out was that some claimed to follow specific apostles only, so that for example a Pauline follower would not accept a Peter follower (i.e. “Oh, you follow Peter? You’re a heretic!”). They classified their brothers and sisters into the categories of approved or unapproved only by which apostle/teacher they followed. (Sure sounds familiar, considering some of the heated arguments present on most Christian forums!)

    (I think there may also have been divisions along line of nationality (1:22-24) and spiritual gifts (12:12-27).)

    To those who put him on a pedestal, Paul tried to downplay himself (1:13-17, 3:5-10). And to those who didn’t accept him, Paul had to defend his apostleship (9:1-2). (There are still people today who accept all of the apostles except Paul.)

    Yet the reality was that the various apostles were not teaching conflicting doctrine. It was only certain Christians who were elevating individual apostles and teachers beyond their due, and ignoring the rest, and by that probably retaining only a subset of full Christian doctrine. I see 11:17-19 as not about real heresies, but about the petty sectarian squabbles that resulted in a lack of practical love for each other. If there were serious doctrinal problems, then Paul would have addressed them, as he did with letter to the Galatian church. Instead he addresses the lack of love and respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ (vss 21-22). Yes, sometimes there needs to be division, but in this case Paul is not praising them for division.

    Of course, I’m not going to consider my way of understanding verse 29 as the only way to understand it; it’s not an important enough issue to divide over. I don’t have any problem with someone understanding it only in the traditional sense. I also believe taking the Lord’s Supper with no thought to the suffering and death of our Lord is asking for judgment. But I think the lack of any mention of discerning the blood is significant, especially after Paul repeatedly paired them together in the previous verses (24+25, 26, 27 28, 29).

    I did find a couple of commentaries that mentioned at least the validity of understanding the body as the church, which is also the body of Christ (Jameison-Faussett-Brown, and David Guzik).

  2. I read with encouragement growing, your article on Discerning the Body is I believe moving its readers in the right direction. I believe that God’s truth is expressed to us in a way that has one basic intentional meaning. Some like to cherry-pick their verses that support their topical opinions. Text-proofing actually only casts doubt on whether or not God is at a minimum able to communicate with us in ways that we communicate with each other. Thank you for your testimony in this article. I came here from CrossWalk, through a post you put online. Thank you.

  3. I agree. The “body of Christ” Paul refers to in verse 29 is The Church (his body). He makes this clear both at the start and end of this passage when he provides the specific context. He even spells it out in verse 31 “But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves [ourselves being the Body of Christ], we would not come under Judgement.” And he spells it out in verse 22 “do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?”.Interesstingly, he link’s that judgement to explain why many were weak, sick and had died prematurely.

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