Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 At childhood’s end — Love

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul has just said, when completeness comes, what is in part disappears (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.

The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.

However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:

1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christs death and ending with the return of Christ in power.

2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view[1] based partly on Gordon Fees refutation: It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider mature our rather totally cerebral and domesticated but bland brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts![2]

3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the rights of the individual believer to express their particular spiritual gift.[3] To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Pauls purpose.

In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.[4] Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, we shall see fact to face (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.

Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Pauls letters (Rom. 5:1-5;Gal. 5:5-6). Garland explains: Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.[5]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 623.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 645, footnote 23.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 625.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-10 Love is a verb

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

The main issue with 1 Cor. 13:4-7 is that we tend to put it on a pedestal as exalted poetry or use it in a wedding ceremony rather than let its actual meaning pierce our hearts every day.

David Garland explains something important about Pauls words: Many observe that [Paul] does not use adjectives to describe love but verbs, fifteen of them in three verses. Love is dynamic and active, not something static.[1] How does this make a difference in interpretation and application? Using adjectives in English versions tends to make us think that Paul is listing desired character traits for an individual believer: Love is patient. love is kind. . . . [Love] is not proud (1 Cor. 13:4, NIV). But that idea does not fit Pauls argument to the Corinthians.

Using verbs, as Paul does, brings out more of the relational aspect of what he is saying: Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag — is not inflated with its own importance (Anthony Thiselton[2]). There is a wide gulf between thinking a person can be kind in their heart (is kind) and understanding that kindness — such as that shown by Christ on the cross —involves actions toward others (shows kindness).

At one critical point, NIV has the excellent [love] keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 1:5) rather than the abstract idea [love] is not . . . resentful (ESV, NET and NRSV) or the impossible [love] thinketh no evil (KJV). Not many of us could figure out how to stop being resentful and none of us could manage thinking no evil. But we all know what it means to keep a list of grievances against someone else. (HCSB and NLT join NIV in making this improvement.)

Many of us go numb at the mere mention of philosophy, and that makes us easy prey to the attacks on Christianity by postmodern philosophers. When Paul says that love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), these philosophers claim that our Christian truth is designed to bring us power over others either for our selfish advantage or that of our peer group. They further claim that when Paul says love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV), his teaching promotes conformist docility. They charge Paul, and by extension Christian faith, with teaching people to silently accept whatever the overlords dish out.

But, Jesus Christ could not be said to be a conformist; his death on the cross on behalf of others occurred precisely because he did not conform to the expectations of this world. Further, he did not die to gain power over others but to offer them an opportunity to escape judgment for their sins. Far from promoting unthinking acceptance of the status quo, the love Paul advocates cares deeply about pleasing God and caring for others. In service of that idea, Paul says that such love never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up (1 Cor. 13:7, Thiselton[3]). Bible translation must always be mindful of how Christian thought is being undermined and frontally attacked.

Verse 8 begins the final section, which extends through verse 13. Garland says, In the concluding paragraph, Paul attests to the permanence of love in comparison with spiritual gifts so prominent in Corinth — prophecy, knowledge, and tongues.[4]

NIV says, Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8), but Thiselton prefers Love never falls apart. He does so because he disdains using an abstraction (fails) when Paul has consciously used images and metaphors of burning or boiling, inflating, bad manners, having a sharp point stuck into one, and reckoning up accounts.[5] The verb means to fall down, to fall to the ground, to collapse, or to fall apart. Love will endure beyond the day when God judges this world!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)616.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)1026.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1026 and 1057.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 620.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1060.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 The greater gifts for the church

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Because we Americans are prone to think individually, it does not occur to us that the personal pronoun you — as in Now you are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27) — is plural. The English pronoun you is ambiguous as to whether it is singular or plural, but the Greek forms are crystal clear. The clause you are the body of Christ is obviously a metaphor that bridges the gap between the example of the human body (1 Cor. 12:12-26) and the church.

Paul previously argued against the exaltation of certain gifts but seems to reverse himself in 1 Cor. 12:28 by introducing a ranking of gifts. The critical difference is that some of the Corinthians were exalting spiritual gifts that could be misused to exalt the individual within the group, but the gifts Paul puts first are those whose value is measured by their benefit to others.[1]

It was an essential requirement for apostles to have seen the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, Acts 1:8). The church does not raise up its apostles but responds to their witness as those sent by the Lord. Apostles had no successors, and Paul uses the term in this sense in 12:28.[2] Those today who allow the word apostle to be applied to them are not using the word in its biblical sense.

In considering what follows, make use of the helpful insight that in speaking we are actually doing something asking questions, issuing commands, requesting help, expressing feelings and linguistic philosophers call this a speech-act. Thiselton usefully distinguishes the roles of prophets and teachers by using the speech-act concept:

Prophets perform speech-acts of announcement, proclamation, judgment, challenge, comfort, support, or encouragement, whereas teachers perform speech-acts of transmission, communicative explanation, interpretation of texts, establishment of creeds, [and] exposition of meaning and implication.[3]

It seems clear that the speech-acts of prophets focus on immediate application, while those of teachers focus on retaining, passing on and interpreting the congregations foundation traditions.[4] Contemporary preaching combines both.

Most interpreters and translators see verse 31 as a transitional verse that connects Pauls conclusion about gifts and his long tribute to the supremacy of love in the life of those indwelled by the Spirit. First, he commands believers to earnestly desire the expression in the church of the greater gifts, which are those given to build up others. That is the ideal prelude to his coming remarks about love.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permis

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 59899.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1015.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1017.

[4] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998) 582.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21-26

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, Many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: Eye and head are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The hands and feet represent the laboring class or slaves. Eyes and heads in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really dont need the other, lesser people.

With the words on the contrary (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be less endowed with power and status than others (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are less honorable and unpresentable by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are presentable and need no special treatment (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) that there should be no division in the body and (2) that its parts should have equal concern for each other. Gods stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of the strong.

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.[4]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:30-34 A supper about unity

1 Corinthians 11:30-34

30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

It is important to understand that communion is nothing to treat lightly. We are told why in 1 Cor. 11:30-32. Paul then summarizes his advice about the Lords Supper (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Keep in mind that Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ and, therefore, speaks for Christ. Pauls advice is more than advice just as the Lords Supper is more than just supper. The wise will listen and obey, and the others will continue to get sick or die!

Though one authority believes weak, sick and fallen asleep (1 Cor. 11:30) are figurative terms describing the spiritual condition of Corinthian Christians, most others believe physical condition is in view. Gordon Fee says that the Spirit has revealed to Paul that abuse of the have nots during the Lords Supper is the cause for the weakness, sickness and death, but he adds that this does not mean that all Christian illness and death are caused that way.[1] Note that fallen asleep is the standard way the New Testament speaks about death among Christians; showing that death is not the same for them as for others (1 Thess. 4:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51).

Verse 31 is what is called a contrary to fact condition or even the unreal condition. Had the Corinthians been discerning their disrespectful attitude (toward Christ) and unloving conduct (toward others) — but they were not — then they would not now be experiencing the incidents of weakness, sickness and even death, all of which are happening.

Being more discerning with regard to ourselves (verse 31) means having both a serious and repentant awareness of any sin in our lives as well as a consistent commitment to our new identity in Christ. Some of the Corinthians seem to have been more interested in what the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Anthony Thiselton summarizes Bonhoeffer this way: Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance . . . communion without confession, grace without discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ.[2] Some Corinthians did not want to share food with their hungry brethren in the faith, did not want to worship with lower classes, and did not want to give up their pagan culture, including participation in idol banquets and sexually immoral behavior.

As members of Gods family, we can expect his discipline (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:1-13) when we stray from the way of Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins. Thiseltons remarks about this discipline reveal its purpose: It should not give rise to doubt of salvation or be endured merely with resignation. It plays a positive role in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in suffering as well as glory.[3] The alternative to receiving the discipline that all believers get is that a person may be finally judged with the world, and no one wants that!

Pauls command in 1 Cor. 11:33 for all to eat together has an entirely theological purpose. Their Christian identity makes them one in Christ, and they cannot be divided in their common worship. Similarly, 1 Cor. 11:34 is not mainly about food. Garland explains: If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay home. If the churchs gathering is to be meaningful, it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.[4]

Many of the lower classes might not be able to meet as early as the more socially advantaged. The strong must wait to share with the others. Jesus could have eaten the finest food on earth every night, but he and the twelve ate together.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 565.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 898.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 898.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 555.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 Proclaim the Lord’s death, not division

1 Corinthians 11:23-29

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For whenever 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 sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Because Christian churches so frequently use the words contained in 1 Cor. 11:23-25 for conducting communion services, it is almost certain that you will initially believe that these words were originally given by Paul primarily for that purpose. But Paul had previously taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper — when he spread the gospel in Corinth — and was here seeking to correct abuses that had developed. Recall that Paul has just told the Corinthian Christians that the divided and class-conscious meal they are customarily having cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20).

Note carefully that verse 23 begins with the word for — with the sense “because” — to signal the fact that the problems Paul has just spoken about will become obvious in light of what he is about to tell them. David Garland explains Paul’s intent by saying: “He does not intend to teach the Corinthians something new about the Lord’s Supper or to correct their theology of the Lord’s Supper. He cites it only to contrast what Jesus did at the Last Supper with what they are doing at their supper.”[1]

English versions of the Bible, including the NIV, speak of the night he [Jesus] was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23), but increasingly scholars see this verb to be bearing its much more common meaning “hand over.”[2] Consider the italicized verbs in the verse: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread .” (1 Cor. 11:23). The two italicized verbs are forms of the same Greek verb. Second, the latter usage of the verb is in the Greek imperfect tense, which generally means the action took place over a period of time in the past; Jesus was betrayed only once, but he was handed over again and again during his trial and crucifixion including the moment when he voluntarily gave up his spirit in death for the sake of others (John 19:30).

You may be asking why this matters. Paul is not seeking to emphasize the sin of Judas, but instead to stress the sacrificial giving of the Father and the Son. Anthony Thiselton explains that the context in both the Gospels and here is that Jesus was handed over to death by God for our sins; God gave him up for all of us (Rom. 8:32).[3]

The sharing of the bread and the cup during the Last Supper involved everyone. Even though Peter James and John were arguably the closest to Jesus, they got the same bread and cup that everyone else got. As we have seen, that is not how things were done in Roman Corinth when the believers gathered to share the Lord’s Supper.

Garland explains how Paul’s conscious imitation of the Lords Supper allows him to make his point forcefully: “They are to imitate Christ’s example of self-giving. Everything they do in their meal should accord with his self-sacrifice for others. . . . Chrysostom [an early church father] . . . grasps the essence of Paul’s admonition: ‘He [Christ] gave his body equally, but you do not give so much as the common bread equally.'”[4]

The new covenant in my blood (1 Cor. 11:25) looks back to the blood of the sacrifices which Moses sprinkled on the people to establish the old covenant with Israel. The blood Jesus shed in his death for us established the new covenant God had promised through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34); this new covenant is discussed more thoroughly in Hebrews 8 and 10.

When Jesus said we should eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:25), he is not speaking about remembering in the mere sense of mental recollection. To remember in the biblical sense includes acting on what you remember, and in this context it means to behave as Jesus did — to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Thiselton explains, “Remembrance of Christ and Christs death retains the aspect of self-involving remembering in gratitude, worship, trust, acknowledgement and obedience.”[5]

Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper has one purpose: to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Do you see the warning? The one who filled this special meal with meaning by his death is coming back! When he does, every Corinthian — high and low — will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So, verse 26 gives a transition to verses 27-29, where judgment is the prevailing theme.

Paul does not say specifically what it takes to participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27). But by this point that explanation is not necessary. Garland points out the sea change in tone: “They cannot treat this meal as a pleasant gathering of in-group friends . . . . It is fraught with spiritual peril if they treat the meal or those gathered for it in a cavalier manner. They will incur Gods judgment.”[6]

The NIV has made a concerted effort to be gender-inclusive, and has generally succeeded, but not in verse 28. Paul uses singular nouns and verbs here to stress individual responsibility for self-examination. The Common English Bible does a good with: “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (1 Cor. 11:28, CEB). No one else can do this for you; you have to do it yourself! The verb Paul uses places emphasis on the result of the self-examination; did it affirm the genuineness of your faith or not?

Some people go through life playing the game, whether at work or in a social setting. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, each of us must come to it with an attitude of humility and an awareness that we are dealing with Christ, not just some religious ritual. To the phrase “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) the NIV adds the words “of Christ” to point the reader toward an interpretation contains a Greek verb which means “to make a distinction.”[7] Thiselton says the distinction believers must make is to be mindful of the uniqueness of Christ, who is separated from others in the sense of giving himself for others in sheer grace.[8]

Merely to go through the motions of communion is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29). Tomorrow we will see just how far that judgment may go.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545.

[2] BDAG-3, paradidomi, hand over, q.v.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 869.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 880

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 550.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 892.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 893.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17–22 One supper, but whose?

1 Corinthians 11:17–22

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

It is quite easy to mistake Paul’s point when he speaks about communion in the church at Roman Corinth. He is not trying to teach communion theology; instead, he is correcting communion practices that dishonor the memory of Christ’s sacrifice for others. Many churches today merely shear off the criticisms and use the rest to conduct communion services.

Frankly, any church whose meetings are described by Christ’s apostle as doing “more harm than good” (1 Cor. 11:17) ought to think hard about discipline from the Lord (more about that later). The factions Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:10 were likely factional differences between one house church and another. The differences in 1 Cor. 11:18 are of a different kind, as Anthony Thiselton explains: “Here, however, the very house meeting itself reflects splits between the socially advantaged and the socially disadvantaged.”[1]

A villa from Paul’s time, just outside Roman Corinth, had a dining room with dimensions of 24 x 18 feet, probably seating about 9 high-ranking guests. The central atrium, a combination courtyard and hallway, had dimensions of 16 x 20 feet, possibly accommodating as many as thirty in crowded conditions. Some believe “the strong” met in the dining room, where a few high-status diners could recline for a shared meal with their social equals, while all the others fit into the larger atrium as best they could.[2] Starting with the host and moving downward in social class, we have close friends, second-class friends, hangers-on, clients, freed persons, head persons, youngsters and servants. The beautiful and ancient mosaic below was taken from the dining room floor of the villa. The host’s close friends enjoyed it.

Floor_mosaic_from_Roman_villa_in_Corinth

Every section of 1 Corinthians has its difficult part, and 1 Cor. 11:19 is one of those verses that has been interpreted in many ways. We cannot agree with the NIV’s translation for two reasons: (1) for Paul to say “there have to be differences among you” makes him contradict himself in a letter where he consistently teaches their unity in Christ, and (2) the Greek word for “God” does not appear in the Greek text and is supplied by translators’ assumption (according to NIV and NLT, but not ESV, NET or HCSB). Some other view is needed.

Only two explanations can cut through all the difficulties. The first would be to understand the verse as Paul’s irony or even sarcasm, but that explanation appears less likely in a context leading to judgment (verses 28–30). The preferable explanation is that Paul is not expressing his own opinion at all! Instead, “the strong” have cooked up another theological argument to defend their privileges. Further, it is not God who is doing the approving but the powerful who are claiming that certain others have not yet proven themselves tried and true.

With that start, we will next look at Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 11:19: “For ‘dissentions are unavoidable,’ it is claimed among you, in order that those who are tried and true may be visibly revealed.”[3] Thiselton, whose explanation we have begun above, joins others who believe these dissentions had been anticipated by the Corinthian believers based on Jesus’ warnings that false prophets would come in his name: Matt. 7:15 and 24:11. Thiselton suggests “the strong” took up this idea by reasoning that not everyone who claimed to be a believer might be proved tried and true. From that principle, “the strong” concluded that “dissentions are inevitable.” However, they are using this slogan not to protect the whole church but to justify separating from those who are not in their social class. In addition, they are blaming the victims by saying they are not yet proven to be “tried and true” (Greek dokimos).[4] On this basis they are resisting Paul.

The result of this scheme is well expressed by David Garland: “The splits at the Lord’s Supper are imposed by prideful, insensitive humans seeking to differentiate the top-drawer members from the common rabble.”[5] Paul’s reaction is strong: they may be eating supper, but it cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20)!

The idea of each family bringing its own food and drink is described by Garland: “The practice of ‘basket dinners,’ or eranos (contribution) dinner parties, in which persons make up a dinner for themselves and pack it into a basket to go to another’s house to eat was well known.”[6] But the result was also predictable: “one person remains hungry and another gets drunk” (1 Cor. 11:22).

As usual, when Paul whips out the rhetorical questions, it is time for those behaving badly to duck (1 Cor. 11:22). Garland explains the plight of the poor: “In the ancient world the poor did not have kitchens in their tiny apartments and prepared their food on portable grills or ate out at a fast-food shop. . . . The privileged had the luxury of eating in their homes.”[7] Those not attached to a household suffered badly in times of famine, which we know historically came even to prosperous Roman Corinth.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 857.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 860–61.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 848.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 858–59.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 539.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 541.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 542.