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.