The Lord’s Supper and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (Post 4 of 4)

Posted By on May 25, 2008

Well, finally carved out the time to get this up. For my money, this passage has been fundamentally misunderstood (or maybe under-read), which has led to a lot of misunderstanding about the Lord’s Supper.  I think you’ll be surprised at what it says.  Please note the underlining.
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.

Paul notes right away that when the Corinthians get together for the Lord’s Supper, something is amiss. Something is going on that he cannot commend or approve of.

18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.

Paul’s charge is straightforward.  When the Corinthians meet for the Lord’s Supper, they are doing something that invalidates it as being a true observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul alludes to a factionalism problem, but then he gets more specific.

21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

This description may seem odd until one realizes that, originally (just as at Passover and the Last Supper), there was a meal associated with the Lord’s Supper.  We know from ancient descriptions of what the early Christians did that a “love feast” was tied to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul describes how the Corinthians were abusing the situation:

    • Paul says that “each one goes ahead with his own meal” – apparently, some were bellying up to the table and eating their fill and others got neglected and went hungry. Additionally, this bit of information let’s us know that a good amount of food was present-enough to fill a number of people as a regular meal (to the expense of others). Paul was angry that certain people were being humiliated when they tried to participate in the meal. He can’t commend the behavior.
    • Some people were getting drunk. Again, this is evidence that a good amount of wine was present-not just one cup full for people to pass around. This was a meal spread out for the people in the church.

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

Several items to observe here:

    • Paul’s language clearly links his understanding of the Lord’s Supper to the Last Supper, not John 6, which isn’t connected to the Last Supper.
    • Paul says he had received this instruction directly from the Lord. This is noteworthy in that, if you go back and look at the gospel accounts of the Last Supper, there is a command to “take and eat,” but only one (Luke 22:19-20) has the command “do this in remembrance of me.” In fact, this is one of only two comments or commands in the New Testament about WHY we are to observe the Lord’s Supper. One wonders why we have come up with so many reasons to observe the Lord’s Supper.
    • The other reason we are to observe the Lord’s Supper is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This eschatological (end times) element of the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in all the gospel accounts of the Last Supper.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Here’s where we get into especially disputed territory.  What does it mean to eat and drink “in an unworthy manner”? Why should we examine ourselves?  What does “discerning the body” mean? With respect to what should we judge ourselves so as to avoid being disciplined by God with sickness and even death?  Just about everyone (but not all) I’ve read in evangelical circles on this assumes that the issue is unconfessed sin in the heart of the partaker, and so teaches that we need to confess sin before partaking, or make restitution with a wronged brother before partaking. Obviously, those are good ideas and the right thing to do in general. I have no problem with them. I do have a problem with this being the point with this interpretation of what the Paul was talking about for two reasons: (1) Paul says nothing about the need to confess sin before partaking, or making sure we’re right with God-that has been imported into the passage; and (2) it ignores what Paul has just told us is the problem: the manner in which the Lord’s Supper was being abused.

I would submit to you that Paul actually tells us what he means by partaking “unworthily,” and once we understand that, the rest falls into place. Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner means conducting the Lord’s Supper in the manner Paul just condemned: taking too much food so that others go hungry and getting drunk. The Greek word “unworthy” (ἀναξίως; anaksiōs) is the opposite of the word “worthy (ἄξιος; aksiōs). The word aksios means “deserving praise or commendation; worthy of being well received or commended; acceptable”).  It doesn’t mean something like “sinful” or “backslidden.”    The word in 1 Cor 11:27, then, means “unacceptable; not deserving commendation.” What has Paul just NOT commended? The way the Lord’s Supper was being abused.

If we accept this idea, that committing the kinds of abuses Paul specifically describes is what Paul means by eating and drinking in an unworthy (unacceptable, uncommendable) manner, what about the rest of the passage?

    • We ought to “examine ourselves” = make sure you aren’t guilty of these abuses; don’t be hypocritical here; listen to what the apostle has said and obey it.
    • If we take heed – if we don’t use the Lord’s Supper like a smorgasboard so that our behavior results in people going away hungry, or we don’t get drunk-then God will not have to discipline us.
    • “discerning the body” = assessing the needs of those (the body of Christ at Corinth = the Corinthian church) who have come to the feast and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

I know this sounds simple-maybe too simple-but it’s what’s actually in the text.  How can I/you be sure?  Look at how Paul finishes up his discussion of the Lord’s Supper-he tells readers what he’s thinking, and so answers the questions raised above:

33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, WAIT FOR ONE ANOTHER34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home-so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

The phrase “it will not be for judgment” is important. It is the same word (krima) here that Paul used in the phrase, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  Paul is referencing his earlier warning here, and the way to take heed to this warning is (a) not to pig out before everyone gets a chance to eat; and (b) if you’re that hungry-eat at home first so that the poor don’t suffer humiliation.

To wrap up the topic, I would submit to you that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is very simple: To remember the Lord’s death until he comes.  That’s it.  Everything else that has accrued around this doctrine does not derive from the text; it derives from the writings of theologians, which are historically conditioned.  Catholicism wants to filter the whole thing through John 6, and then literalize that. Luther didn’t want his doctrine to be what the catholics said, but what the catholics taught was what he knew. He tried to steer a sort of middle course, but the end result is reading far too much into the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Baptist and others may have avoided that baggage, but have added their own, making the Lord’s Supper into some sort of confessional rite.  Many have forbidden children since they have taught you get grace (for various purposes) in the rite (which is nowhere said).  But I would submit that everyone, including children, can partake and remember how Jesus died on the cross and that, someday, they will get to observe the Supper with the Lord himself present when he returns. It might just capture their imagination a bit.

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31 Responses to “The Lord’s Supper and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (Post 4 of 4)”

  1. Rebekah says:

    He says do this in rememberance of me. Not my death. He does say what the bread represents(the partaking of the sacrifice) Wine represents his blood of the covenent. I believe because he includes these things he is also saying remember you have accepted the sacrifice as for you and to remember the covenent he made with us. not just his death. I agree with the rest and find it to be as God has shown me. I know you like to take the text as it stands ading nothing more but there is so much more is there not? Id like to ask at what point does one taking the scriptures at thier face value and not adding something that isnt there supercede taking into acct the culture of the times, the times, customs, repeating themes, etc at what point does one decide to let those other influences in your decerning what it really says?

  2. cwmyers007 says:

    Good conclusion to this study on the Lord’s supper. Even I thought that you should be a Christian to partake of the supper. And indeed it does make sense for this to be true, but it is not necessary from the text; it is merely tradition. Good observation.

  3. tcblack says:

    Bang on Michael.
    I’ve been following this series and though I’ve had hints already I was hoping this was where you were headed. If we could just live, or rather read with the constant mantra that “Scripture Interprets Scripture” we’d have a lot less heresy – or hearsay in the church.

    Keep it up, I’m still reading!

  4. Rebekah says:

    There was one other thing thing I don’t think I saw in these these posts is that the passover was called the feast of unleavened bread. It was a feast and the tradition was to feast at this time but the feasting is what got them into trouble as they did it with priority to what Jesus taught and with no regard for the other participants. It had become a perverted custom with the satifaction of the personal Body coming before the sanctity and holyness of the practice. If it was included please forgive me for not seeing it.

  5. revgreg88030 says:

    For the most part I agree with you. Yes, Luther indeed took the middle ground, not limiting what was said and not going beyond what was said, neither adding nor subtracting. That is why Lutherans believe there are 4 elements at the Supper, namely Bread, Body, Wine & Blood.
    I will state that we do agree with Paul that it is done in remembrance as he writes and so proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes BUT we also do not take what Paul writes alone from other Scripture for “Scripture interprets Scripture” therefore we also include the Gospel texts in the basis for our doctrine and believe the simple words recorded there also.
    In Matthew 26:26-29 he states plainly , “Take, eat, this IS My Body …Drink from it [the cup of wine], all of you. For this IS my Blood of the new covenant [testament – enacted in force at His death, His last will and testametn – God’s new covenant with His church] which is shed for many FOR the forgiveness of sins…
    Also Mark the same as Matthew
    Also Luke adds like Paul [1 Cor] for the remembrance.
    Therefore we take God at His simple words and believe all 4 elements present for forgiveness as we fellowship with God and our fellow believers at the altar in remembrance of His suffering and death “for us” [corporately] and given “to us” [individually] for the forgiveness of our sins [once and on-going continuously] as our past, present, and future sins paid for and covered by His shed blood for the remission of sins. As He is truly present with us in the “koinonia” our faith [the assurance] is also strengthened in Him.

    I will also agree that John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper.

    Also confession is not necessary before reciving the Lord’s supper but Confeesion & Absolution is another means of grace God uses. I have often mulled upon the thought of Infant Communion much like the Orthodox.

    Enjoy your insight and this discussion.

  6. drew says:

    To remember the Lords death till he comes!!!!!

    Absolutely; What else could it be.

  7. MSH says:

    Rebekah: I’d say that “taking the scriptures at thier face value and not adding something that isnt there supercede taking into acct the culture of the times, the times, customs, repeating themes, etc at what point does one decide to let those other influences in your decerning what it really says?” IS letting the Bible speak for itself. Taking the Bible on its own terms includes how the ancient literary artistry of the text was crafted–and it would have to be understood in the culture of its day.

    In other words, I see no conflict with all this. The only conflict is when we superimpose OUR more modern expectations and historical conditions on the text.

  8. MSH says:

    to tcblack: thanks!

  9. MSH says:

    Rebekah – thanks; this was interesting.

  10. MSH says:

    revgreg: Your post raised a question in my mind: When you write, “Therefore we take God at His simple words and believe all 4 elements present for forgiveness” are you saying that forgiveness is “happening” at the Lord’s Supper, or that the work of Christ for forgiveness is being remembered, or something else?

  11. drew says:

    I am not terribly good at putting things together but i find it interesting that in the same Luke chpt. theres another cup [that Yeshua didnt want] and blood [his] .

  12. MSH says:

    drew: Yes, it’s startling how traumatic this was for Jesus, despite its predetermination. This (among many things in the gospels) shows Jesus’ humanity in a clear way. We tend to de-emphasize that too often.

  13. eweiss says:

    18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.

    Since there is no article before “Lord’s,” wouldn’t it perhaps be better to translate verses 20-21: “When you come together, it is not to eat a ‘Lord’s’ supper. Instead, your gatherings are a free-for-all.”

  14. revgreg88030 says:


    To MSH In a short answer Yes. I had a longer answer but I must have mis-posted it. I’ll look around for it.

  15. MSH says:

    eweiss: No, since definiteness doesn’t depend on the article. The article telegraphs it, but it is not the sole indicator of definiteness. And, a word having the article can at times still be indefinite (in Hebrew this is more common, at least in my experience).

  16. Mike W says:

    Great post. MSH: take it one step further now. How should we, the church in America, apply these truths when we have communion? Certainly, most of our church’s don’t celebrate “love feasts” anymore as part of communion. I agree with you that the ultimate point is to “remember the Lord’s death until He comes” – as a worship pastor though, I’m now going the next step…applying this to our services. Any thoughts?

  17. MSH says:

    Mike W: Agreed on the absence of love feasts, and I’m not sure that kickstarting them would be of benefit. I do think that more “intentionality” toward remembering the sacrifice of Jesus and how we are called to sacrifice and suffer as he did would have an impact on the worldliness of the church. I think it’s fair to say that remembrance of the cross was heightened with Mel Gibson’s film and that this had a positive effect by and large. The cross is the central event of all we are and God’s love for us. I think there’s been too much of a trend to focus on felt needs (read: ourselves) in worship, though I also think that’s been often unintentional. Yes, people are broken and believers have lots of gaps to fill in the lives of others, but the sacrifice of Jesus (the decision and the event) are the whole reason we have something to offer. Instead of trying to live our best life now, maybe we should be remembering who we were and who we are because of Jesus; maybe we should try and give more away and sacrifice our day to day lives than accumulate things to “show God’s blessing.” The whole notion of sharing a meal has meaning as well, and hearkens back to the sharing of resources that the early church had as a practical focus. How revolutionary would it be to really have Acts 2:45 as a philosophy of ministry? What a unique church you’d have if the majority of people really did things like that?

  18. Kevin says:

    This is way off subject Mike, but I couldn’t find a blog that directly addresses this issue. Was Jesus a vegetarian, did God intend for us to eat meat and can you start a blog about this topic. I have some friends who are attacking me on this, and I cannot refute their sources. Thanks.

    By the way, could you call it veggiebabble for me. :)

    • MSH says:

      what are their sources for Jesus? Since Judaism allowed meat, there is no justification for saying Jesus would not have eaten meat. The “original vegetarian” idea is inferred; it is not stated in the text. It is inferred by Genesis 9:4-5 – 4 “But you shall not eat flesh with its ?life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: ?from every beast I will require it and ?from man.” Notice that this command was given to NOAH after the flood. It does not say that the idea goes back to Adam. And it couldn’t be conceived as anything binding, since meat was not forbidden later in the times of the patriarchs or for Israel. Some also infer the idea from statements in Genesis 2 about Adam and Eve being allowed to eat from every tree in the garden (except the one). The text does not say they could not eat meat. To argue this, one would also have to argue that they could also ONLY eat fruit from trees — i.e., that fruit vegetables from the GROUND were also forbidden. The only mention of the other veggies is in Gen 3:18 – in the curse after the fall). My point: if you are going to argue this point from silence then you need to be consistent. There are other problems. Adam and Eve tended “livestock (Gen 2:20). This term does *not* refer generically to all land beasts, for the obvious reason that, in the same verse, it is distinguished from “the beasts of the field.” Why have livestock unless you are going to use the animals as livestock (eating animal products and the occasional animal)?

  19. Kevin says:

    Thank you so much for answering. Although I come from a family of hunters, I am a vegetarian now out of respect for my wife. I have friends however, that are on a mission from Peta. You have given me a solid case for argument.

    I don’t know where they are getting their information from, only that they are saying that Jesus made “dead fish” from the dirt to feed the 5000. He did this to supposedly show how bad it is to consume “death.” Also, that there was a mistranslation and He used “fish weed,” similar to seaweed to feed them. This doesn’t make sense and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence other than the one loose cannon found here.

    People will believe anything if you make a viral video out of it. :)

    Thanks again.

  20. Eugene Han says:

    To Michael Heiser,
    I have a question for you if you have the time to answer. At my church we eat together a meal after every service. Would that be considered the Lords supper? Or is it just when the church says we are having the lords supper? or should it be every meal that you eat with Jesus. You know where I’m getting at or if anyone else can shed some light on this it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Mr. Heiser and on all who follow this blog. God bless you all. Oh and Mr. Heiser…you’re the man.. hahaha

    • MSH says:

      A close reading of 1 Cor 11 informs us that the observation of the Lord’s Supper was (at least at Corinth) accompanied by a feast (there was enough food and wine there for Paul to make the charges he does). Since the Lord’s Supper was a much simpler event / observation, I think that some effort needs to be made by those in charge as to *when* the ordinance / sacrament is being observed, as opposed to any other feasting. Paul makes a distinction, and for good reason (feasting disconnected to events being commemorated would not be in concert with the commemoration).

      • aj says:


        Stumbled across your blog by way of your UFO stuff. Very interesting, and informative. I’m not a scholar whatsoever, but I do enjoy discussing these topics (and reading about them, of course). I don’t have much time right now, so I will try to make my questions as simple as possible. It may branch out more at a later time. You state that Paul is trying to say ” if youre that hungry-eat at home first so that the poor dont suffer humiliation”. Is it possible that he when he says “if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home”, he is saying to not make a meal out of the Lord’s Supper rather than your thoughts of not pigging out or “if you are that hungry……”? I can’t read Greek, so I don’t know what the word he uses for hungry implies, IE famished, starving, etc, or just plain grab a bite hungry. Also, would not the retribution of being in sickness or “falling asleep” for abusing the Supper not imply that they were abusing something much more than just a commemorative event? It reminds me of those who were struck down when touching/defiling the Ark of the Covenant (which God had promised to present in, I believe). I meant for this to be short, I apologize. Thank you very much.

        • aj says:

          “which God promised to BE present in” Sorry for the omission.

          • MSH says:

            got it – I don’t see an analogy with the ark of the covenant since I don’t see Jesus promising to be present in the bread (but I’m guessing you gathered that).

  21. Ryan says:

    I was wondering if you could comment on the significance of the bread and wine specifically. What I mean is, were they just the pieces of food that would have been present in that culture and at the table, therefore Jesus used them, or is there a much larger significance? If Jesus was to walk into a dinner of believers in 2013 and institute the Lord’s Supper (assuming he had not done so already in the gospels), would he ask for us to run and grab some crackers and Korbel or would he grab a piece of pizza and a glass of water and still share the same significant truth. Also, I feel like the fellowship among believers (not only with Jesus) that was present due to it being a meal is missing in todays observance of the Lord’s Supper, if you have any thoughts on that, that would be awesome as well.

    • MSH says:

      My take on it is that these two elements are referenced for two reasons: (1) consistency with the OT imagery, upon which NT passages draw and (2) commemoration / memory of the last supper of reference. The presumption is that people are biblically literate enough to know what event is being commemorated in Scripture and historic faith traditions. For those that know what the point is, serving pizza and koolaid really doesn’t hearken back to the original event that’s supposed to be “re-enacted” or remembered. They had bread and wine/fruit of the vine, so we do. It’s a link to the past, which in my view is the point. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t ask that we be clever or creative, or come up with a new angle on the tradition; it asks that we remember. It seems simple enough. But in these days when it’s hard to convince church goers that we ought to reserve 30 minutes out of our 168 hour week for biblical content that might (and should) require thought (as opposed to feel good sessions from the pulpit), it might also be difficult to argue that the Lord’s Supper doesn’t need innovation.

      Then again, lots of believers I meet crave some connection to the ancient past.

      I follow the drift of the question, though. Since I don’t assign any grace-imparting significance to the elements, the elements would therefore in theory be dispensable or alterable. I’d disagree, but only because of the connections noted above.

      • Ryan says:

        I appreciate your response. What I am trying to do in a very young pioneer church is reincorporate the love feast because I feel like a large part of the fellowship among believers (in addition to, not replacing the fellowship with God as the main focus) is missing completely from communion. My plan is to have the crackers and juice, but to also incorporate an actual fellowship meal as well and I don’t think a meal of crackers and grape juice would accomplish that as bread and something to drink might have actually been a meal in the setting of many early Christians. I don’t want to push the envelope here and do something just for the sake of shock value, but I really do feel so much is missing from communion without it being a love feast. Thanks for your time.

  22. Ryan says:

    I believe it went very well! People seemed to respond to the re-establishing of the fellowship meal to accompany the bread and the juice. There seemed to be almost a relief in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper when people realized it is to be a time of rememberance and fellowship with the Lord, as in the communal meal like in Leviticus 7, as opposed to something mystical that could possibly lead to a terrible judgement if they happened to “eat in an unworthy manner”. People seemed genuinely excited to make this the new norm in our congregation! Thanks for the insight with the blog and your podcast, it cleared up some areas where I was wrong and others where I was unsure. God bless!

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