Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 after reading the beginning of Gordon Fee's chapter, "History as Context for Interpretation," in The Act of Bible Reading.

For most of my life I have considered 1 Corinthians 11:29, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself," to refer to self-examination regarding proper understanding of the elements--bread and cup. Reading this verse in its context does not support that interpretation.
  • 11:17-22 Paul condemns the Corinthians for social division of the church during communion
  • 11:23-26 Paul reminds them of the meaning and manner of communion
  • 11:27-32 Christians are in danger of judgment if they celebrate communion without discerning the body
  • 11:33-34 Paul commands the Corinthians to practice unity during communion
I now realize, looking at the context, that "discerning the body" refers to understanding the nature of the church--its unity. The inclusio (vv 17-22 and vv 33-34) focuses on the inherent unity of the church and the sinfulness of social status division in communion.

I have always attended churches that take communion in tiny cups and tiny pieces of bread, prefacing the eating of the elements with a call to examine ourselves (whether for sin, general worthiness, or proper understanding of elements) and to do so solemnly. I do not think I have ever heard the officiant call for us to celebrate our unity in Christ by taking this one loaf and this one cup. Our extreme individualism--individual-sized cups and loaves and individual examination--put us in danger of God's judgment. Church is not a mere collection of individuals--as me-and-Jesus were enough. We are necessarily a people and this passage in 1 Corinthians pounds home just how serious God is about our unity as his people (v 30).


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“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” http://www.esv.org/

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