The Wheat and the Weeds (Part 3), Matthew 13:36-43

Sometimes it is difficult to see people struggle because the wicked seem to prosper. Some who have done great wrong never even go to trial, much less to prison. Human experience cries out every day for a great and long-delayed balancing of justices scales.

The proverbial doubter loudly wonders why God allows disastrous or cruel acts to occur, somehow supposing that such deeds should corrected by instant miracle or immediate punishment. Given the passage of a little time, can we say that anyone would remain unpunished? Perhaps it would be wiser to hope that God will sort things out in his own good time.

Matthew 13:36-43

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.

37 He answered, The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Commentary

The disciples wisely chose to wait until Jesus entered the house before asking for an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds. Keep in mind that we have already learned that the weeds were darnel, a plant easily mistaken for wheat and one capable of causing great harm.

Verse 37 again bears the marks (in Greek) of a significant statement or new development. Jesus quickly delivers a set of identifications (verses 37-39):

  • the one who sowed the good seed = the Son of Man [Jesus]
  • the field = the world [not the church]
  • the good seed = the people of the kingdom
  • the weeds (darnel) = the people of the evil one
  • the enemy = the devil
  • the harvest = the end of the age
  • the harvesters = angels

Note carefully that a seed in this parable stands for a person; back in the Parable of the Sower, the seed stood for the word taught about Gods rule. When you study Gods word, it is important to be attentive rather than assuming that things never change, and that includes symbols used in parables.

The phrases people of the kingdom and people of the evil one (verse 38) need further explanation. These phrases rely on the same Jewish idiom. A son of the kingdom is a man who has repented and followed Jesus, thus being characterized by the rule of God. The same would hold for a daughter of the kingdom. So, these people of the kingdom are Jesus disciples. A similar analogy holds for the people of the evil one, who are like the devil; they are not Jesus disciples and are outside the house, ignorant of this deeper knowledge.

After Jesus finished making the identifications for the parable, he began speaking about the dynamics that will occur at the end of the age. In fact, Jesus concentrated more attention on the end of the age than anything else. Every Jew knew that the end of the age was the time of final judgment, when everything would be sorted out. Jesus wants us to be sure that we know: the kingdom has begun to spread, and even though judgment is delayed, it will come at the appropriate time.

Events unfold swiftly when the Son of Man sends out his angels to sort the people of the evil one from the people of the kingdom. What is plain is that everyone who rejects Jesus will wind up in the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (verse 42). So, those opposing Jesus will be overwhelmed by shame, crushing regret and suffering.

The situation for the righteous (verse 43), those who have repented and become people of the kingdom ruled by the Father, is one of honor and splendor. This is a brief description of the vindication that Jesus disciples will receive at the end of a long, hard road. They will shine like the sun.

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

The Wheat and the Weeds (Part 2), Matthew 13:31-35

We have learned that Jesus is offering many glimpses of the rule of God that he has brought to the world. One of the biggest questions is how Gods kingship will propagate and change over time. That question is almost as important today as it was in the first century.

Matthew 13:31-35

31 He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.

33 He told them still another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.

Commentary

The Mustard Seed (verses 31-32)

First, we will find it useful to get some facts on the table to help us interpret what Jesus says in this Bible passage. Even though mustard seeds are extremely small (1-2 mm) less than half the diameter of the lead in a fine-point mechanical pencil even smaller seeds are known. But the existence of smaller seeds is beside the point because Jesus used mustard seeds as the proverbial standard for smallness in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world.[1] Mustard seeds germinate quickly and grow to a height of about ten feet.

We can learn something here about parables and similar stories. They frequently include exaggeration and must not be subjected to an overly strict or literal interpretation. This trait made them more useful and flexible when speaking to audiences accustomed to such material.

The Mustard Seed presents an analogy between {the mustard seed and mustard plant} and {the present and future kingdom}. I have gotten free with symbols here to make the analogy more clear. All facts about mustard seeds are irrelevant except for the one fact that it starts as such a tiny seed and grows so large when it becomes a mature plant.[2] That one things makes it comparable to the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus used the Mustard Seed to address a question burning in the hearts of many people in Galilee about the kingdom of heaven: is that all there is? Jesus had done many marvelous things, and his teaching easily outclassed anything they had ever heard, but Roman rule over Israel remained unchanged, and evil had not been finally defeated. This was not the glorious kingdom they had been led to expect.

Using the Mustard Seed, Jesus says that the small and unimpressive beginning for the kingdom of heaven should not be used to make assumptions about its final scope. Snodgrass says, The point is that what one sees with Jesus will lead to what one hopes for in the kingdom. … The future kingdom is already present in Jesus teaching and work.[3] As such, the Mustard Seed is a statement of hope and confidence.

The Leaven (verse 33)

The farther I get into research about these parables and similitudes, the more it has become apparent how alienated I have become from the land and its products. After all, my fruits and veggies come as full-grown, finished products at the store!

So, again we start with a few facts. Today we do not generally bake bread and other baked goods as they did in the ancient world. In their efforts to make what is ancient feel more modern, numerous English versions mention yeast in verse 33. NIV, NET, NLT, HCSB and CEB versions all inaccurately say yeast. Other versions, KJV, ESV and NASB, correctly say that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven. Yeast and leaven are not the same.

Leaven is nothing more than fermented dough. Ancient bakers kept aside a small lump of dough from the previous baking and kneaded [mixed] that into the fresh dough so that its leavening effects would spread throughout. When mixing was done, a small lump would again be reserved to do the same thing next time. The leaven contained gas-producing bacteria which helped the bread rise, making it easier to eat. [So does bakers yeast, but that is another story.] Today we call bread made the ancient way sourdough.

So, in the simple story Jesus tells, a woman takes the leaven and mixes it into sixty pounds of flour, enough to feed bread to 100-150 people.[4] Except, Jesus did not say that the woman mixed the leaven into the flour; he said that she hid (Greek egkrupto) the leaven in the flour. Note that ESV, KJV and NASB lead the way among English versions by preserving the meaning hid. What is the point of this word choice? Once you put that leaven into sixty pounds of flour, the leaven is inside doing its vital work even though you cannot see it. The active agent makes the bread rise even though it is hidden from view.

Just as the leaven transforms an enormous amount of flour, so the rule of God transforms the world in a powerful and significant way even though its activity is hidden. Both parables, the Leaven and the Mustard Seed, portray the surprising large effect of something small and unobservable.[5]

In verse 34, we move on to a reminder from Matthew that Jesus spoke to the masses only in parables. He gave the leaders who had plotted to kill him nothing with which to accuse him. The words attributed to Jesus in verse 35 are a paraphrase of Psalm 78:2. The first half of verse 35 explains how Jesus deals with outsiders. The second half of verse 35 informs us that the disciples received things hidden since the creation of the world. Matthew explains that both approaches were revealed by Asaph in a prophecy long ago. The Son of Man fulfilled prophecy. He still does!

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008) 220.

[2] Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 220.

[3] Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 225226.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 527.

[5] Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 233.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36-40, The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36-40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Pauls arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be spiritual; those who have the Spirit will agree that Pauls commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: They will themselves be ignored (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, It means that the Lord will say to such persons, I do not know you (Matt. 7:22-23).[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. The phrase translated orderly way has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright 2014 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) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

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 Pauls 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 Christs 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 Christs 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 Pauls 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 hosts 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 NIVs 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 Pauls 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 Thiseltons 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 Lords Supper are imposed by prideful, insensitive humans seeking to differentiate the top-drawer members from the common rabble.[5] Pauls reaction is strong: they may be eating supper, but it cannot possibly be the Lords 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 anothers 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.