Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, If you dont have love; [+ The nature of “tongues”]

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If you dont have love Part 1

We have said that chapter 12 introduces the grace-gifts (manifestations) the Holy Spirit has given to every Christian according to the Spirits own choice of their distribution. In chapter 13, Paul takes on the daunting challenge of putting the grace-gifts into perspective for a church that is exaggerating their use in worship. Then, in chapter 14, Paul explains how the grace-gifts may be used in worship in such a way that the church is built up rather than falling into the trap of self-exaltation and division.

Even the least informed observer will conclude that chapter 13 is about love, but this obvious fact leads only to more questions: “What is love?” and “What is Paul saying about love?” The Greek noun agapeoccurs ten times in the chapter. This word is rare in Greek literature and finds its dominant use in the New Testament. For that reason, we look to the New Testament to determine its meaning in this context.

Anthony Thiselton explains: Love (agape) denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly Christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[1] (emphasis original). David Garland adds that this love for others is the check on the exercise of the gifts for personal gratification.[2]

When we explained chapter 12, we deferred a discussion of different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10) until this point. Note carefully that kinds of tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

In discussing the grace-gift of tongues, we should begin by saying that this use of the word tongue is metaphorical. Obviously, everyone has a physical tongue, so the word refers to some type of spiritual activity involving the tongue. But what? Thiselton cautions that, in answering this question, It is almost universally agreed that reference to modern Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena cannot be used as a means of interpreting Paul and Corinth.[3] In other words, we cannot interpret the past by studying the present. That is backwards!

A few proposals about the nature of tongues

Some have thought tongues to be angelic speech, but not only does Paul distinguish tongues of men and of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), but he also says tongues will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8), which seems an unlikely thing to say for the tongues of angels. If tongues were heavenly speech, there would be no reason for them to pass away.

Others have suggested tongues to be the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages. Presumably that would be useful in evangelizing other peoples. But Thiselton points out, If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God (14:2), let alone, the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself/herself [1 Cor. 14:4].[4] Further, Paul never says anything about such an evangelistic use and, instead, deals with the presence of tongues in the context of Christian worship. Paul makes a point of saying that tongues are an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:2, 4, 79, 1617, 23).[5]

Still others propose ecstatic speech as the nature of tongues. However, this idea has drawn heavy criticism, not least because the term ecstasy has not been defined in terms that can be verified in the New Testament. Parallels in the wider Greco-Roman world are unconvincing.

So, where does that leave us? Thiselton suggests a connection with Romans 8:26, which says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. He explains that what Paul refers to as tongues in First Corinthians 1214 is the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer.[6] These unintelligible yearnings can be understood by God but not by others.

Thiselton adds that these yearnings can express a longing for the [final] completion of redemption to take place, prompted by the Spirit through Christ to God, like all authentic Christian prayer.[7] Expressing another description, Thiselton explains, Tongues may then be viewed as the language of the unconscious because it is unintelligible (unless it is interpreted) not only to others but also to the speaker.[8] Garland suggests this might indeed be one kind of tongue and observes: Tongues, from this perspective, are a sign of weakness, not spiritual superiority. . . . As a token of our weakness, it explains why tongues will end (1 Cor. 13:8).[9]

If you don’t have love – part 2

Look back at verses 1-3 and the way Paul has structured his argument. These verses have several elements that need clarification. First, Paul uses the language of probability, suggesting actions that may or may not occur. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says that verses 1-3 all follow the same pattern; Paul argues from an actual case to a hypothetical case.[10] In verse 1, we know that Paul spoke in tongues, but he did not speak in the tongues of angels. In verse 2, the actual-to-hypothetical pattern is more obvious. Paul did have the gift of prophecy, but, Wallace argues, to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge would have made Paul omniscient, like God. Obviously, that result is out of the question!

Another crucial element of Pauls argument is that even if he could do both the actual actions and the hypothetical ones as well, unless they were done with love for others, they would count for nothing before God!

The phrase resounding gong (1 Cor. 13:1) is likely a reference to resonating acoustic bronze jars used to project the voices of actors.[11] These were placed around the edges of stone theaters and amphitheaters to catch the sound of the actors voices and echo the sounds again. But hearing these echoes was not the same as hearing the original voices. Paul says that even the tongues of angels would just be an echo without love.

Garland provides a fine summary of these three verses when he says, Spiritual gifts minus love equal zero.[12]

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) 1035.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 606.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 979.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 97677.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 978, quoting L.T. Johnson.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 988.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 586.

[10] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 471.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1036.

[12] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 614.

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 12:12-20 Gods choice about gifts must prevail

1 Corinthians 12:12-20

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by expressive his anguish over divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Throughout the letter he has appealed for unity and the love necessary to sustain it. He continues that theme in our passage by using a metaphor the believers in Roman Corinth would understand: the human body and its various parts.

The Corinthians would have found this metaphor familiar in two ways. First, Corinth had an important temple of Asclepios, the god of healing. The Corinth Archaeological Museum contains a large number of terra-cotta models of heads, hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and every part of the body . . . [created] in prayer or in thanks for restoration of health.[1] Second, the Corinthians would have understood language about the body and its parts as language traditionally used to argue for unity on the basis of a hierarchical political structure.[2] (emphasis original). Since ancient political writers used this metaphor to appeal for unity within a city or larger group of people, Paul did the same.

Several times in our study of 1 Corinthians, we have looked at the organization of Pauls argument to help us understand it better. David Garland shows that the literary structure for this weeks biblical text fits a pattern of ABBA, meaning that the verses labeled A complement each other, as do the verses labeled B. In this case that looks like this:

A The body as one but with many members (12:12-14)

B The inescapable diversity of members within the body (12:15-20)

B The inescapable interdependence of members of the body (12:21-26)

A The differing functions within the body (12:27-31)[3]

Today we will cover the first AB of the pattern. Concerning verse 12, Thiselton argues that the grammar puts greatest emphasis on Christ, next most emphasis on the unity of the one body, and third most emphasis on the plurality of the parts of the body.[4] Garland supports this idea by saying, Unity dominates diversity and makes diversity genuinely meaningful and constructive.[5] Keep in mind that the metaphor involves the human body, but the way that metaphor was understood in Roman Corinth involved unity within a hierarchical structure. The one at the top of the hierarchy is plainly Christ the Lord.

Gordon Fee explains Pauls point in 1 Cor. 12:13 by saying: What makes the Corinthians one is their common experience of the Spirit . . . . The Spirit is essentially what distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever (2:10-14).[6] Since Romans 8:9 also makes it abundantly clear that having the Holy Spirit is the difference between being a Christian or an unbeliever, we get some clarity on the baptism referred to in verse 13. This cannot be a reference to water baptism because those who trust in Christ do not do so while being baptized in water. Instead, baptism in this verse is a metaphor for the immersion in the Spirit that happens to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free (1 Cor. 12:13), at the moment of salvation.

Paul again changes metaphor in the clause we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Cor. 12:13b). The Greek verb can mean drink or even refer to being watered, saturated or drenched in the Spirit[7] as it does in 1 Cor. 3:6-8.

Since 1 Cor. 12:13 is the only place in the New Testament where the biblical text expressly speaks of baptism in/by the Spirit, it has unfortunately been used by some Christian groups to support the idea of a Spirit-experience at some time after salvation. Thiselton explains why this idea is wrongheaded: Any theology that might imply that this one baptism in 13a in which believers were baptized by [or in] one Spirit might mark off some postconversion experience or status enjoyed only by some Christians attacks and undermines Pauls entire argument and emphasis.[8] (emphasis original).

Verse 14 strikes a blow against anyone who would try to exalt one spiritual gift as the sole mark of spirituality. It also ties the need for diverse gifts to the created order. Garland aptly states: One person alone, no matter how gifted, cannot play a Beethoven symphony, act a Shakespearian tragedy, or compete against another team. The same is true in the church.[9]

1 Cor. 12:18 shows us that God is the one who has placed the parts of the body into their harmonious arrangement, and he does not need any help from those who think they have a better design. It was Gods creative choice to have the body consist of many parts, not just one (1 Cor. 12:19). But those many parts work together to function as a single body (1 Cor. 12:20).

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) 7.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 992.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 589.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 996.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 590, quoting M.L. Soards.

[6] 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) 603.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1000-01.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 997-98.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 589.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:1–3 An all-consuming confession

1 Corinthians 12:1–3

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Having dealt with provocative worship conduct and abuses of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11, Paul continues to correct problems within the worship setting in 1 Cor. 12–14. But the problem he addresses is likely the most serious due to the amount of space he devotes to it. It relates to problems he has already addressed in this letter — pride, lack of love, and the scramble for status.

What is this important issue that Paul must address? In yet another example of competitiveness instead of community, some are using the spiritual gift of tongues to exalt their own spiritual status above that of others.

By now we should be accustomed to expect a slow and gradual start in Paul’s argument followed by a hard-hitting conclusion. Accordingly, we must be patient in anticipating his conclusions in chapter 13 (love is superior to all the gifts) and chapter 14 (worship must be conducted decently and in order). For the moment, Paul will concentrate on showing the diversity of spiritual gifts and the unity of the church in needing every one of them.

David Garland takes Paul’s perspective to show how the apostle intends to address the distortion of spirituality in Corinth: “From Paul’s perspective, the basic issues are, What does it mean to be spiritual? and How are Christians to exercise their spiritual gifts in the church?”[1]

Paul gets the ball rolling in 1 Cor. 12:1 by announcing his subject — “gifts of the Spirit” — and adding, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” By putting the matter in these words he is subtly suggesting that they are uninformed in light of what is going on among them. Very slick work, Paul!

Verses 2 and 3 are a lot harder than they look. Garland suggests that Paul describes three religious experiences:

1. Pagan experience: being led astray to dumb idols [verse 2]

2. Jewish experience: declaring Jesus is anathema [verse 3a]

3. Christian experience in the Spirit: confessing Jesus is Lord [verse 3b][2]

NIV follows their normal custom in 1 Cor. 12:2 by using verbal variety (“you were influenced and led astray”) for two Greek verbs that are close relatives. The NIV translation puts the matter into the realm of the mind and suggests inner devotion to dumb idols. But what if Paul is using a more literal activity to illustrate his point? In many cultures a festival parade in the city streets was used to draw adherents along with the action, then into an idol temple and finally to the very foot of the images themselves. Anthony Thiselton says such a scenario is attractive though impossible to prove: “The [festival parade] then symbolizes the ignorance and slavery of the Corinthians’ pre-conversion life, in which they simply followed where they were led, like the sacrificial animals in the procession.”[3] This is the type of “spirituality” the Corinthians had known before. (A lot of Americans are behaving this way in our time.)

As to the Jewish experience Paul is referencing in the first part of verse three, recall that Paul knows he also is writing to some who were converts from Judaism. Paul describes their experience in the synagogue (1 Cor. 12:3a). Garland explains, “Since the evidence reveals that this cursing of Jesus actually occurred in synagogues, it is the most likely background.”[4]

But neither the pagan processions through the streets to idols nor the complete renunciation of Jesus in the synagogue represent spirituality. Only those who confess that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3b) speak by the Holy Spirit.

We might put Paul’s reasoning in a formal argument:

1. Christians all confess “Jesus is Lord.”

2. Only those who confess “Jesus is Lord” assuredly speak by the Holy Spirit.

3. Therefore, all Christians are spiritual, because they all speak by the Holy Spirit.

As we will soon see, spirituality is not the possession only of those who have the most spectacular or showy gifts of the Spirit. Every Christian is spiritual and every gift is needed for the church to function as it should.

Note carefully that this description of spirituality is Christological. It depends directly on confessing Christ as Lord. Thiselton says that the identification of Jesus as “Lord” is Paul’s favorite description, occurring 220 times in his writings. Thiselton adds, “On one side, Christ takes responsibility for the believer as his or her [Lord]; on the other side, the Lord is the authority to whom the believer is responsible and from whom the believer derives his or her lifestyle and ethics.”[5] This exchange is how the new covenant in Christ’s blood works.

By redefining all Christians as spiritual, Paul lays the foundation for his description of spiritual gifts and their use in the church (1 Cor. 12:4–11). It all starts with Christ as Lord.

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) 558.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 571.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 912.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 571.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 926.

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.


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.