I. CHAPTER 1: PAUL’S CONCERN FOR UNITY IN 1 CORINTHIANS 11
First Corinthians 11 has long been the standard Lord’s Supper text used by Protestants in their communion services to recite the words of institution; and rightly so. The Pauline version of the Last Supper is the only one which we may be certain was written primarily for liturgical purposes.2 It alone is found in the context of a discussion about the Lord’s Supper, whereas all others were (apparently) written to record the historical fact of the Last Supper.3 Consequently, Paul’s account is helpful in that it offers insight into other avenues of the Lord’s Supper not specified by the other accounts. This is not to say that Paul is exhaustive in his treatment—indeed, we would not have even this much if there had not been abuses of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth—but that what he offers by way of explanation exceeds that offered by the other accounts. In other words, whereas the Synoptic accounts purport to record the historical event and give only minimal reflection as to its ramifications for the Lord’s Supper,4 Paul’s account is just the opposite; his includes only minimal treatment of the historical event (11:23-25) and much reflection on its ramifications.5 For this reason special consideration must be given to Paul in discussions where the primary focus is the Lord’s Supper.6
It is precisely because Paul expands on the traditional words of institution that we may begin to see other related aspects of the Lord’s Supper that would be difficult at best to ascertain from the Synoptic accounts. One such aspect, unity, is particularly strong in 1 Corinthians 11,7 and it is to this aspect that we may now turn.
A. The Problem at Corinth
In order to understand what Paul says about the Lord’s Supper in this text one must first understand what he is battling. The views on this, though varied, do not deviate severely from each other. Regardless of which view one takes about the problem at Corinth, few deny that the underlying problem is disunity. Some of the Corinthians were excluding other Corinthians from the fullness of benefits that accompany the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s burden therefore is to reestablish the unity-aspect in the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, it will be helpful to survey the contents of 1 Cor 11:17-34 and the proposed views of the problem at Corinth, and then to decide among them.
B. Survey of Views
Paul begins his discussion of the Lord’s Supper with a negative tone. He has previously praised the Corinthians for their adherence to “the traditions” (v 2) but finds he cannot praise them in their practice of the Lord’s Supper8 since their meetings do more harm than good. Paul identifies in v 18 why this is so, and it is at this point that the exegetical options open up. The root of the Corinthians’ problem is division. The problem for the exegete is not so much in determining the kind of divisions to which Paul is referring (it seems clear from vv 21-22 that Paul has in mind class divisions, viz., the wealthy and the poor9) as in determining the reason for these divisions. There is virtual unanimity that the Lord’s Supper described here by Paul is a full meal and not merely the bread and cup. Hence the church at Corinth came together for a common meal, probably provided by the wealthy, which was to be shared with the entire assembly. On a cursory reading it seems apparent that the wealthy were arriving at the meeting ahead of the poor and eating the meal before the poor arrived.10 Paul’s corrective then would be for the wealthy to “wait”11 for the others before eating.
This reconstruction has not gone unchallenged. On the lexical level some have questioned whether prolambanō in v 21 can here be rendered “to take before.” B. H. Winter, for instance, holds that the problem in Corinth was that the “haves” were eating their meal in the presence of the “have-nots” who, after partaking of the bread, patiently waited for the “haves” to finish their meal so that the entire body could then partake of the cup together. His reconstruction revolves around the idea that prolambanō in v 21 is to be translated here simply as “receive” (not “take before”).12 For support he notes that neither of the two other occurrences of this word (Gal 6:1; Mark 14:8) has the meaning “to take before” and that the preposition in compound is intensive, not temporal.
S. H. Ringe has further developed Winter’s proposal and has argued that there were differing “menus” in the church, one for the haves and another for the have nots, and that it is against this “banquet etiquette” that Paul reacts so strongly in 1 Cor 11:17-34.13 J. Murphy-O’Connor argues similarly that the problem of 1 Cor 11:17- 34 is about the type of food offered to the participants.14 He argues that in the architecture of the first-century Corinthian house, the triclinium (i.e., the dining area) could not accommodate everyone, and that there was a necessary overflow into the atrium (the courtyard), hence creating two groups. According to Murphy-O’Connor’s reconstruction, the rich Christians (in the triclinium) were offered choice food while the poor (in the atrium) were offered only scraps. It is in this way that “one is hungry and another is drunk” (v 21). Certainly, this was a common practice in the ancient world as is evident by examples from the writings of Juvenal, Martial and Pliny.15
An older and much discussed view is that of Hans Lietzmann. Calvin Porter gives a helpful summary of Lietzmann’s view of the Supper.16 Lietzmann breaks the Supper down into two different traditions: (1) the Jerusalem tradition which observed no memorial to Christ’s death but which was celebrated in anticipation of the Messianic banquet; and (2) the Pauline tradition in which the death of Christ and a memorial to Him was the central theme (apparently without exclusion of the Messianic banquet). The problem in 1 Cor 11:17-34 according to Lietzmann is that those who held to the Jerusalem tradition were attempting to supplant the Pauline tradition. Consequently, Paul must reinforce his tradition by emphasizing in v 26 the centrality of the death of Christ.17
There is some merit to Theissen’s view. Theissen thinks the problem is that the wealthy members were eating a “private” meal (which consisted of choice morsels) before officially starting the common meal (which consisted of an inadequate quantity and quality of food).18 Theissen takes en tō phagein in 11:21 temporally (“during the Lord’s Supper”) and argues that these private meals were also eaten in front of the poor. Marshall agrees with Theissen’s assessment of the situation in Corinth, and in this way Marshall can account for both the idea that each was “taking his own supper” (v 21) as well as the idea that some were eating ahead of others (v 33).19
C. Proposed View
None of these views seems very satisfying. Against Lietzmann’s view, Porter echoes a common concern among scholars that one should not “assume opposing views about the Lord’s Supper within the Corinthian church.”20 Lietzmann’s proposal is much too speculative and for this reason has been rejected by many scholars (e.g., Marshall, Higgins, Porter, et al.).
The view of Winter, Ringe and Murphy-O’Connor is an attractive reconstruction but does not answer all the questions that must be raised about the text. Why, for instance, does Paul tell the Corinthians to “wait for each other” (v 33)?21 As Theissen notes, this explanation “does not make wholly comprehensible the conflict connected with the Lord’s Supper…in that case Paul would only have to admonish all to share equally.”22 Ringe’s use of the evidence is deficient in this respect. In order to harmonize her reconstruction with Paul’s injunction in v 33, Ringe must propose that the rich were partaking of their menu before the poor arrived, who then, upon arrival, partook of a less substantial meal than the rich.23 However, this argument is difficult to sustain since it introduces a modification in the historical evidence of the ancient banquet etiquette to which she appeals. According to Murphy-O’Connor, the uniqueness of the ancient banquet etiquette theory lies in the fact that both groups (both rich and poor) are at table at the same time.24 But if the acceptance of this theory requires a modification to make it work, why accept the theory in the first place? Winter attempts to deal with this injunction of Paul by assigning to the meaning of “‘receive one another’ in the sense of sharing,”25 although he recognizes that in every other instance of the word the meaning is “to wait for.” Moreover, Winter’s assertions about the meaning of the word are not conclusive. Even Fee (who sympathizes with Winter’s position) admits, “one cannot totally rule out a temporal sense” and “the lack of further description by Paul makes a clear-cut decision impossible.”26 In spite of the arguments in its favor, it seems best to abandon the “banquet etiquette” theory27 and conclude simply that the rich were arriving at the meeting and eating the supper before the poor could arrive. Possibly the demands of employment created longer working days for the lower class, whereas the wealthy enjoyed the luxury of shorter working days or setting their own hours.28
The view of Theissen and Marshall is the most promising; yet it too has problems, the most obvious of which is the treatment of idion deipnon in v 21. Both Theissen and Marshall take this as a reference to the Corinthians’ practice of eating individual meals which each person brought only for himself, or a “private” meal for the rich only which was eaten before the common meal shared with the poor. It is unlikely, however, that this is what Paul intends since, as Käsemann argues, the words are probably to be seen in contrast to kuriakon deipnon in the preceding verse.29 If this is correct, then we cannot view idion deipnon as referring to any “private meal” which was eaten by the rich before the common meal took place. Nor is it likely that this refers to individual meals that each person brought solely for himself. Rather we should see this as referring to the Supper itself, which, when all in the body are invited, becomes the Lord’s Supper, and which, when some are excluded for illegitimate reasons (such as social status), remains one’s own supper.30
How then should we view the problem at Corinth? There is no good reason to abandon the prima facie sense of Paul’s words. The wealthy in Corinth, it seems, were purposely arriving at the meeting conveniently at a time when the lower class could not possibly be there (perhaps because of occupational restraints). There they partook of the meal (intended for all), perhaps reasoning that since the poor contributed nothing to the meal, neither should they eat anything. This may even have been a distorted application of Paul’s own tradition for his churches.31 That the Corinthians may have misinterpreted Paul at this point is not exactly out of the question. Moreover, it seems possible (though by no means certain) that the Corinthians saw a distinction between the meal proper (which they may have viewed as optional) and the bread and cup (which they saw as the actual “Lord’s Supper”). If this is the case then it may be that the wealthy Christians at Corinth were taking the common meal before the poor arrived, saving the bread and cup which were taken with the poor present, thus separating (illegitimately, according to this view) the meal from the so-called Eucharist.32 Bornkamm subscribes to this view (though not in every detail). He proposes that it is the “sacralization” of the bread and cup apart from the common meal that Paul is correcting in v 29, and sees it as a “strange irony” that Paul is refuting the very thing of which the church would later be guilty when historically it abolished the common meal altogether.33
II. THE LORD’S SUPPER AS DEFINED BY UNITY
Perhaps one of the clearest themes that emerges from this section of Paul’s writings is his overarching concern for unity in the body when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Yet it would be a grave mistake to view this unity merely in metaphysical terms. All too often “we equate unity with union.”34 This, however, does not seem to be the case in Paul. Paul’s concept of unity is one that must be worked out and expressed on a practical level. As Murphy-O’Connor puts it, “if an explanation [of the body] in ‘static’ terms is thereby excluded, we are forced to consider an explanation in terms of ‘function.’”35
Moreover, it is not so much the unity of the body universal that Paul is concerned with, but the unity of the body in each local assembly.36 This unity is to be portrayed, in Paul’s view, “when you come together as a church” (1 Cor 11:18), and, more specifically, “when you come together to eat” (vv 20, 33). It is against this unity that the Corinthians are acting in their practice of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul’s immediate concern, therefore, is to address their “divisions” and to reestablish unity. As already mentioned, the “divisions” (schismata) in v 18 are related to social status; they are divisions between rich and poor. The “divisions” (haireseis) of v 19, on the other hand, are not so easily explained. Why does Paul say “there must be divisions among you”? The answer, in part, lies in v 18 since v 19 begins with an explanatory gar.37 Most commentators believe that Paul here intends an eschatological division; that is to say, the tares will eventually and inevitably be divided from the wheat and so much the better if it occurs now.38 The phrase in v 18 (“to some extent I believe it”) is variously interpreted. Fee, for example, thinks Paul acquired his information from some of the poor who were being excluded from the meal and who thus had a biased “view from below.”39 On this view Paul is acknowledging that his informants are not exactly impartial witnesses and so believes them “to some extent” but wants also to hear the “view from above.” But Paul’s tone throughout the rest of this section betrays no hint that he only partially believes the report, as though it were merely a matter of a misunderstanding between the rich and the poor that Paul must attempt to patch up. On the contrary, Paul’s language toward the alleged violators is much too strong for someone who only half believes the report. Indeed, Paul knows that “many are sick” and that “a number have fallen asleep” (v 30), and explains this epidemic as the consequence of their actions at the Lord’s Supper—not exactly the kind of language used by someone who is only half convinced that there is in fact such a violation. Barrett’s explanation, that Paul deemed his informants credible people but was unwilling “to credit so scandalous a story,”40 is much more plausible.
Grosheide takes schismata as a reference to personal opinions, so that, although Paul is against disunity in the body, he is equally against uniformity.41 It seems unlikely though that this is Paul’s intent, since it requires too drastic a change of thought. As Barrett notes, there can be no significant change of meaning between schismata and haireseis, for “if there were such a change the connection of thought would break down.”42
Whatever view is to be adopted, it must adequately account for both gar in v 19 and oun in v 20. The word gar in v 19 explains either the report itself or Paul’s partial willingness to believe it (but it may be a combination of both). The word oun in v 20 introduces the consequence of the Corinthians’ haireseis in v 19. It is at this point that the difficulty arises for those who see haireseis as “eschatological divisions,” for in the first place it is difficult to see how eschatological divisions “explain” in any way the divisions between rich and poor at the Supper. Are we to assume that the wealthy Corinthians are not true believers and that they are even now making themselves manifest? What then is Paul’s point in vv 30-32 when he says that the reason many of the violators of the Supper are sick and many have died is precisely so that they “will not be condemned with the world”? To introduce the eschatological division of believers and unbelievers at this point does not fit well with the flow of Paul’s argument. Nor does this interpretation account well for oun in v 20. Why would the Supper cease to be the Lord’s Supper (v 20) simply because some unbelievers have made themselves manifest? In other words, if Paul sees these haireseis as an “eschatological necessity”43 (and one that is ultimately good since it makes clear those who are “approved”), then his conclusion in v 20 (which is one of rebuke—“it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat”) must seem odd to the Corinthians. It would be more in keeping with Paul’s style if at this point he suggested the Corinthian believers separate themselves from the false Christians rather than to suggest they strive for unity with them.
On the whole it seems more natural to take Paul’s statement in v 19 as one of irony or sarcasm. While it is true (as most commentators point out) that schismata in v 18 does not refer to Paul’s previous discussion about “divisions” in 1:10-12 and 3:4, it does not at all follow that this must be the case with haireseis in v 19. It is likely that Paul is thinking of just such divisions and is in effect saying, “Oh yes, of course, I’ve forgotten; these divisions of yours are necessary so that everyone will know that it is your own little clique that has God’s approval, and nobody else!” This view adequately accounts for gar (v 19) since the Corinthians’ general proclivity toward “divisions” explains their divisions in the Lord’s Supper as well, and oun since what follows from their divisions is the annulment of the Lord’s Supper from their meals. It is quite probable that the sarcasm extends through v 22.
Paul now proceeds in vv 20-21 to define the Lord’s Supper in terms of unity. The norms of society (according to which class divisions were expected) were influencing (if not dictating) the manner in which the Corinthians were behaving at the Lord’s Table.44 Consequently, these norms were destroying “the very unity which that meal proclaimed.” Paul’s primary concern here is not the Lord’s Supper per se but the significance of the Lord’s Supper as an expression of unity. When Paul says in v 21 that the Corinthians’ behavior is tantamount to despising the “church of God,” he means not so much that the “have-nots” are being ill-affected (although this is certainly true in light of his additional statement, “shame those who have nothing”) as that the “church” as a community, as a result of abuse, is being deprived of its essential unity.45 A celebration of the Lord’s Supper apart from this corresponding unity is not the Lord’s Supper at all. The rationale for Paul’s statement is explained by the premium he places on the unity-aspect of the Supper. Not only is unity one focus of the Supper, but, for Paul, “the Supper is the focus of Christian unity.”46 Consequently, any celebration of the Supper without this unity (regardless of the title the Corinthians might give to it) is simply one’s own supper (v 21).
III. THE STRUCTURE OF PAUL’S ARGUMENT IN 1 CORINTHIANS 10:16-17
Paul’s mention of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 10:16-17, although decidedly incidental to his discussion about the consequences of idolatry, reveals a significant aspect of the Supper, both in its practice and in its theology, that would, apart from this section, have remained unknown; namely, that there is “one loaf” from which all partake. Before exploring this aspect, however, it will be profitable (if we are to avoid the erroneous interpretations which plague this passage) to examine the context in which it is found.
Paul’s line of thought begins in 10:1. The Israelites were identified as the people of God. Their identifying mark was bound up in their association with Moses and the exodus from Egypt. They were in effect “baptized” by means of this relationship (v 2). There is no need here to see this “baptism” as anything more than a convenient parallel between the Israelites and the Corinthians. Properly speaking, this was not a baptism at all. Paul is merely trying to make the point that the Israelites were identified as the people of God no less than the Corinthians are presently. His point is extended in a further analogy. The Israelites identity as the people of God can also be seen in the provision of food and drink supplied by God himself. Paul calls it “spiritual food” (pneumatikon brōma) and “spiritual drink” (pneumatikon epion) intentionally to parallel the Lord’s Supper of the Corinthians, just as he has previously paralleled the Israelites’ “baptism” to the Corinthians’ Christian baptism.47 Paul’s point of these parallels is revealed in vv 5-6, and the application for the Corinthians extends to v 11. Even though the Israelites retained their identity as God’s people, it did not follow that they were beyond God’s judgment; for, as the historical account clearly indicates, “they were laid low in the wilderness” (v 5). So also, the Corinthians are not beyond God’s judgment even though they are identified as God’s people. It is therefore important for Paul that the Corinthians keep a close watch on their lives. The overarching theme running through this section (which began in chapter 8) is idolatry. Paul mentions this first in his list of applications (v 7) and then mentions other activities in vv 7-10 which must be seen in relation to idolatry, perhaps even as consequential to idolatry (viz., orgies [v 7], immorality [v 8], rebellion [v 9], and complaining [v 10]). He ends his list of applications in vv 12-13 with a warning and a promise: a warning to those who flippantly consider their status as “Christians” as a guarantee of indestructibility—they must “take heed”; and a promise to those who in humility acknowledge their frail condition—they must take courage. The promise, that when tempted by idolatry (and its related activities) God will provide “a way out,” applies to those (but only to those) who are not “looking for the way in.”48
Paul begins in v 14 to come to the heart of what he has to say. The Corinthians thought it harmless to participate in the banquet ceremonies of pagan gods. They were, after all, “knowledgeable” that there is only one God and that there is no such thing as an idol (8:1-6), and that food is made for the stomach (6:13) and is not to be rejected (1 Tim 4:3-5). Therefore, it must follow that no harm can be done by eating in an idol’s temple. But Paul rebuffs this logic of the Corinthians. While it is true that an “idol is nothing” (8:4), it does not at all follow that there is no force at work behind the worship of an idol. As Bornkamm puts it, these “demonic non-entities” are, nevertheless, “demonic non-entities.”49 Yet on what principle is it true that a Christian is ill-affected by his participation in a pagan feast? Could it not be argued that, demons or no demons, as long as one understands what is behind it all and refrains from the worship aspect of the pagan feast, one could conceivably partake of the food without compromising his Christian faith? That is what Paul answers in vv 15-22, and it is here that his discussion is significant for the Lord’s Supper.
A. The Meaning of Koinōnia
Paul chooses two scenarios by which he may illustrate the magnitude of the Corinthians’ practice of participation in the pagan feast. On the one hand, there is the nation of Israel; those who eat the sacrifices become sharers in the altar. On the other hand, there is the Church; those who eat of the bread and drink from the cup become sharers in Christ. The question remains: What is the meaning of this koinōnia? Is it communion (vertically with a deity), or participation (horizontally with other participants)?
A. T. Robertson subscribes to the former. He draws a distinction between koinōnia in these verses and metechō in v 17 (the former means “having the whole,” while the latter means “having a share”).50 The basis for this view customarily comes from the papyri where there is evidence of invitations to the feast of one god or another.51 On this view the worshipper has mystical communion with the deity at whose table he is eating. Therefore, the Christian (or anyone else for that matter), when he partakes of the Lord’s Supper, has this kind of communion with Christ. The meaning of koinōnia, therefore, is to be seen in light of the pagan understanding of communion with a deity.
Robertson is somewhat of a maverick in this regard, since almost all recent scholarship seems to be in disagreement with his view.52 On the other hand, almost no one subscribes to either view by itself. The majority of scholarship has instead come down somewhere in the middle. Wainwright concedes that Robertson’s view is indeed a starting point for the meaning of this word, but it is only that and nothing more.53 C. T. Craig has noted that in each case of the word koinōnia (or its derivative) in this passage the noun which follows is always in the genitive. He sees significance in this and in the fact that Paul does not use the preposition “with” (meta) in any of these cases, indicating that the idea here is not strictly association with another person but “participation in something in which others also participate.”54 The difference is that the former is a one-to-one relationship between the participant and the deity, whereas the latter is a one-to-many relationship between the participant and the rest of the community who are participating in the same thing.
This is essentially the view of most scholars. There is no real alternative between the ideas of communion and participation. Both ideas are implied.55 The participants’ koinōnia is with one another, but the “basis and focus” of this koinōnia are bound up in their common interest (in the case of a Christian) in Christ.56 Metechō in v 17, therefore, needs to be seen almost as a synonym of koinōnia.57 Any view that sees koinōnia as referring only to communion with a deity must break down in v 17; for there it is clear that Paul intends a common participation. In the case of Israel, those who sacrifice at the altar become koinōnoi or “sharers” (with one another58) of the altar (v 18). Certainly, this does not exclude communion with the deity; but neither can this be the primary idea, for the object of the common participation is the “altar,” not God. What it does exclude is the idea that by eating the religious meal the participants are actually eating the deity.59 If for no other reason than this, “modern translations have rightly abandoned the use of the term ‘communion’ in this verse.”60
Since we have shown what is involved in the word koinōnia, it remains to see what the basis of this koinōnia is for the Christian. This may be adduced from v 16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation of the body of Christ?”
In the first instance it must be noted that Christian koinōnia is “of the blood of Christ” and “of the body of Christ”. As noted above, it is significant that Paul does not use the preposition meta; it is simply fellowship “of the blood/body of Christ.” The “body” and “blood” of Christ likely refer to Christ’s own physical body and blood given up in death, not the elements of the Lord’s Supper by which they are represented; they are intended as metonyms for “the benefits of Christ’s death.”61
B. The Significance of “The Cup/One Bread”
The phrase, “the cup of blessing,” may come from, as Kasper argues, a “modified form of Jewish table customs,”62 but more likely comes from a Passover background. The presence of the first-person plural in both “we bless” and “we break” makes it likely that Paul does not intend to limit this practice with the cup and bread to Corinth alone, but rather suggests that he has all his churches in mind.63 He is in effect quoting “commonly accepted belief.”64 There is no significance for liturgical form in the fact that Paul reverses the usual order of the bread/cup to cup/bread. Marshall rightly ascribes the unusual order to the fact that Paul “wanted to make a point about the bread rather than about the cup.”65
But just what is the point that Paul makes about the bread? Paul goes beyond the mere fact that it is a participation in the body of Christ and, in addition, shows its significance for unity. There is one loaf of bread in the Lord’s Supper (v 17). This one loaf of bread, according to Paul, somehow creates unity within the body (“because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body”). As if to prevent someone from downplaying the force of “because,” Paul adds: “for we all partake of the one loaf of bread.” There can be no mistaking Paul’s meaning here, and it is doubtful that the grammar can be taken any other way.66 Paul believes there is theological significance in the singularity of the loaf of bread. It is important to Paul that there is an expression of unity in the body (not merely a static concept of unity); this is accomplished by all partaking of one loaf of bread.67 Harris’ assertion that the single loaf and single cup “expressively symbolize the unity of believers”68 is true in itself, but does not go far enough. Paul does not say that we partake of one loaf of bread because we are one body; on the contrary, we are one body because we partake of one loaf of bread. As Wainwright notes, the bread “both signifies and causes churchly unity” (emphasis his).69 The force of hoti (“because”) and gar (“for”) together makes it clear that Paul sees the singularity of the loaf as a cause of this unity, not merely its symbol.
The same may be said about the cup. Although Paul does not specifically assign a numeric value to the cup, the presence of the article (to) and the parallel with the loaf suggests that (as with the bread) there is only one cup.70 Potērion (“cup”) is almost certainly intended to stand for both the cup itself and the contents within (viz., the wine).When each local assembly gathers together to partake of the bread and the cup, the members are made one body by virtue of their common participation in the bread and cup:
Because all have eaten portions of the same element, they have become a unity in which they have come as close to one another as members of the same body, as if the bodily boundaries between and among people had been transcended.71
Paul’s concern then in this and the ensuing verses (vv 18-21) is to show the oneness of any given religious body (whether Israel, the church, or pagan religions) at a religious feast, of which the Christian feast serves as an example. This oneness means that anyone who thus joins himself with the participants of the feast becomes one with that religious body, and hence, becomes one with the activities of that religious body.
Whether this oneness is metaphysical or merely representative cannot easily be determined, although Paul’s insistence in v 20 (“I do not want you to be participants in demons”) favors a metaphysical oneness. In either case, this oneness must be seen as an essential quality of the Lord’s Supper. Its cause in the Christian feast (i.e., the singularity of the loaf and cup) must therefore also be of an essential quality. It is to this quality that we may now turn.
C. Implications for Communal Form in the Lord’s Supper
As we have already seen, the elements of the Lord’s Supper (viz., the bread and wine) are, at least for Paul, in the form of a single loaf of bread and a single cup of wine. We have also seen that Paul attaches theological significance to this form of the elements and that the form itself somehow causes unity to occur within the local body of believers as each member partakes of the elements. But what if this form is not followed? What are the implications when the singularity depicted by the one loaf and one cup is absent?
According to Harris, a sacrament “dramatizes the central truths of the Christian faith.”72 If this is true, then the correct form of the sacrament is of importance; for an incorrect form would not accurately convey the central truth that it intends to dramatize. If, for instance, Paul intends for the singularity of the bread and cup to portray oneness in the body, then the absence of that singularity necessarily implies the absence of a “visible proof” of oneness.73 In fact, much more is at stake than mere portrayal. Since, as Paul argues, the singularity of the bread and cup causes unity in the body, then the absence of this singularity may imply the absence of bodily unity in the Lord’s Supper.74
Against this view, Marshall, while seeing value in maintaining the symbol of one loaf and one cup, allows modifications of this form where the form may be impractical. For larger settings he suggests simultaneous participation.75 However, it is not completely clear how simultaneous participation would convey adequately the symbol of unity which participation in one loaf and one cup pictures. After all, Paul states that one reason all of the participants of each local assembly76 are one body is because they all partake of one loaf and one cup. Bread that is presented in a broken form77 does not symbolize unity but division. The same holds true of wine that is pre-poured into individual cups.
Paul’s words seem to demand singularity of the bread and cup before the form can accurately portray or cause unity. It is not enough simply to have the elements of the bread and cup; these elements must also be capable of expressing their intended theological function. Any other form, while perhaps more practical, does injustice to the theological significance Paul attaches to the oneness-aspect of the elements. To the extent that Paul’s concept of oneness in the Lord’s Supper is not portrayed via the proper form, to that extent the form is impoverished in terms of its ability to cause (or even to symbolize) the unity that Paul sees as so essential to the Lord’s Supper.
IV. THE UNITY-ASPECT IN THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
The unity-aspect of the Lord’s Supper was carried over to the first few generations of Christianity after the apostles.78 Many of the early church fathers reflect the same teaching of oneness in their writings as Paul does in his. Ignatius is one such example. Although very brief (and certainly by no means descriptive), Ignatius does nevertheless indicate an adherence to the Pauline concept of the singularity of the elements. Within the closing of his epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius records the following:
Assemble yourselves together in common, everyone of you severally, man by man, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David’s race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to the end that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ.79
Although Ignatius does not here mention the singularity of the cup, he does so elsewhere in his letter to the Philadelphians:
Be careful therefore to observe one eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup into union in His blood; there is one altar as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellowservants), that whatsoever you do, you may do it after God.80
It seems evident from these two passages that Ignatius (and the churches to which he writes) sees importance in the singularity of both bread and cup. While Ignatius does not expand on that singularity it seems likely that he has in mind the same theology of the Lord’s Supper as did Paul in 1 Cor 10:16-17. Ignatius makes a connection between the “oneness” of the faith, the Son of God, the flesh of Jesus, and the altar with that of the bread and cup in the Lord’s Supper. In this regard he seems to go beyond Paul, perhaps in an attempt to emphasize the true humanity of Jesus over against his Gnostic opponents.81 In any case, Ignatius believes that the church universal is partaking of one loaf and one cup within the Lord’s Supper. This demonstrates that the unity-aspect was understood as an integral part of the Supper even within the post-apostolic church.
This emphasis on “oneness” is also apparent in The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, in which he records the words of the bishop who presides over the Supper: “And we ask you that you would send your Holy Spirit…and that you would grant it to all the saints who partake, that they may be united.”82 For Hippolytus the unity of the body of believers is caused by the Holy Spirit through participation in the Eucharist. It would not be too far wrong to say that, for Hippolytus, unity is the goal of the Lord’s Supper. At the very least, it is clear that the aspect of unity was an important part of the celebration of the Supper.
Another patriarch, Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on 1 Cor 10:17, says: “If we all partake of the one bread, we are all become together one body.”83 While most of Cyril’s writings on the Lord’s Supper address aspects other than oneness (indeed, even the one before us is not exegeted by him to any significant degree), the underlying assumptions are nevertheless apparent. Cyril assumes the same causal relationship of the bread and unity as does Paul. In similar fashion Cyprian writes:
When the Savior takes the bread that is made from the coming together of many grains, and calls it his body, he shows the unity of our people, which the bread symbolizes. And when he takes the wine that is pressed from many grapes and grains and forms a single liquid, he shows that our flock is composed of many who have been brought into unity.84
Some have seen in Cyprian’s words an allusion to the Didache. Referring to the bread of the Eucharist, the writer of the Didache states: “As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom.”85 While there are similarities in analogies used, and while Cyprian may very well have the words of the Didache in mind, the focus of each is decidedly different. For while the focus of Cyprian is a present, spiritual unity within the body of Christ, the focus of the Didache is clearly an eschatological reunion (i.e., a gathering together at the end of the age).
Already we are beginning to see a change of emphasis in the Eucharist, from the bread as the cause of unity to the bread as a symbol of unity. This is true of both bread and wine. Indeed, as one surveys the views of the fathers on this issue one finds a variety of thought about the unity aspect in the Eucharist; from the bread as the cause of unity among the members in each local assembly, to the bread as the cause of unity among the members of the church universal, to the bread as the cause of unity between the church and Christ, to the bread as a mere symbol of unity.
Yet it must be said with equal force that all the fathers who speak on this issue see significance in the physical form of the bread and wine—that it consists in one loaf and one cup. This is clear in the case of Cyprian from his insistence that the bread symbolizes the “unity of our people,” and that the wine “forms a single liquid,” and that this too symbolizes the “many” who are “brought into unity.”
One final father that is worthy of our consideration is Chrysostom. Of all the early fathers who deal with this aspect of the Eucharist, Chrysostom is far and away the most detailed in his exegesis of the oneness of the loaf and cup. In his explanation of Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:16-17 he writes:
For what is the bread? The body of Christ. What do they become who partake of it? The body of Christ: not many bodies but one body. Many grains are made into one bread so that the grains appear no more at all, though they are still there. In their joined state their diversity is no longer discernible. In the same way we are also bound up with one another and with Christ. You are not nourished from one body and the next man from a different body, but all from one and the same body. For this reason he adds “We have all partaken of one bread.” If we eat of the same bread and so become the same, why then do we not show the same love and in this also become one?86
Chrysostom, like Cyril and the writer of the Didache, uses the analogy of the individual grains of bread which collectively become one loaf to illustrate how the bread of the Eucharist creates and symbolizes unity among believers who partake of the bread. Unlike Cyril, Chrysostom sees the oneness of the bread (and participation in it) as the cause of unity among believers, not just its symbol. This is especially evident in his assertion that those who partake of the bread “become the same.” That he means “oneness” here seems clear from the parallel about love: “and in this also become one,” hence using the words “same” and “one” synonymously. Those who partake of the bread, therefore (according to Chrysostom), become one.
What was said earlier of Cyril of Alexandria may also be said of the church fathers collectively; namely, that while their writings on the Eucharist (with few exceptions) generally do not include detailed analysis of its unity aspect, what they do include clearly reveals that they see the unity aspect as both vital and widely accepted by the church as a whole. To that extent they testify to the adherence of the early church to Paul’s idea of oneness in the Lord’s Supper.
1 Editor’s Note: This article was part of a booklet written by the author in 1996. It was published by the New Testament Restoration Foundation in Atlanta, GA. We plan to publish the booklet in three parts in this journal. The article appears as it was first published except for format changes, such as the numbering of sections and the transliteration of Greek words. In addition, some footnotes contained explanations which, due to constraints on length, were omitted. The full booklet, in its original format, can be found at: https://comingintheclouds.org/wpclouds7/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/the_table_of_lord_communion_Lords_supper.pdf. Used by permission.
2 Paul’s immediate concern, of course, is to resolve a problem in church practice. However, since liturgy may be defined as standardized church practice, and since Paul’s concern is to bring the Corinthians in line with that which he “received” (v 23), it is not inaccurate to speak of Paul’s purpose as “liturgical.”
3 I. H. Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 35. Although it is true that purpose and literary form must carefully be distinguished, it is equally true that purpose (at least to some degree) determines literary form. Cf. Craig Blomberg’s case study in his The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1987), 66-72, passim.
4 This is not to say there are no redactional considerations by the writers for their readers. Indeed, the very fact that there are differences among the accounts indicates that the writers were selective about the details to be included. Nevertheless, the thrust of the Synoptic accounts (and of Paul’s account in 1 Cor 11:23-25, for that matter) is, in the first instance, historical.
5 This should not be construed to mean that one account is more “valuable” than the others. Neither does this mean that Paul sees little relevance for his church in the Last Supper account or that the Synoptic writers see little value in the Lord’s Supper. The inclusion or exclusion of this or that material does not thereby appreciate or depreciate the value of the account. It means only that each account is better able to yield those theological points for which it is redactionally suited.
6 As opposed to discussions where the primary focus is the Last Supper.
7 Granted, Paul’s words are situationally constrained and are designed to counter an abuse. Nevertheless, since Paul says nothing that would not be true of the Lord’s Supper in any case (even if there were no abuses), and since he places great importance on what he does say, we can only conclude that what he says is essential to the Lord’s Supper. That he might have presented the Lord’s Supper differently had there been no abuses is beside the point. The fact is, there was an abuse and it is because of this abuse that we know more about the theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper than we otherwise would have known.
8 F. F. Bruce, First and Second Corinthians, NCB (London: Oliphants, 1971), 108, sees touto in v 17 as referring to what has preceded, as does J. Héring, The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (London: Epworth, 1962), 111-12, and C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, HNTC (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968), 260, and concludes that Paul is only with qualification praising the Corinthians for holding to “the traditions” in 11:2. While this is certainly possible, it must be noted that Paul’s usual form in 1 Corinthians is to give praise and then immediately to qualify his praise (such is the case with 7:1-2, “it is good…But”; and 8:4-7, “we know…However”). Paul does this in 11:2-3 as well (“I praise you…But”), which seems to argue against the notion that the qualification comes in v 17. Moreover, Paul’s statement in v 17 (“I do not praise you in this”) seems (in form) to negate rather than to qualify. It is probably better, with G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 536 n. 23, to take this instance of touto together with that found in v 22 as forming an inclusio (cp. 7:29-35).
9 There is a near consensus among scholars that Paul does not have in mind the divisions mentioned in 1:10-12. Based on Paul’s mention of schismata and haireseis, Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1982), 147, rightly associates the problem at Corinth with groups rather than with individuals. Moreover, these groups are later identified as the poor and the wealthy (i.e., those who are hungry and have nothing over against those who are drunk and take their own meals, vv 21-22), idem, 148.
10 Cf. prolambanō in v 21.
12 B. H. Winter, “The Lord’s Supper at Corinth: An Alternative Reconstruction,” Reformed Theological Review 37 (1978): 74-78. passim.
13 Sharon H. Ringe, “Hospitality, Justice, and Community: Paul’s Teaching on the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34,” Prism 1 (1986): 60. In support of this view it should be noted that in v 21, “each one” (= all at the assembly) “takes his own supper” (i.e., the kind of food fitting for his social status), and as a result, “one is hungry” (since his supper is of the kind that is offered to the lower class) “and another is drunk” (since his is of the kind that is offered to the upper class). The men…de construction ties together both the “hungry” and the “drunk” as receivers of a “supper” of some kind. But “each one” (hekastos) could just as readily refer to all at the table before the poor arrive (viz., the “haves”). The men…de construction need imply no more than the end result of such a practice (viz., one remains hungry [when he finally arrives], the other [imbibing too long] is drunk).
14 Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Eucharist and Community in First Corinthians,” Worship 50 (1976): 37.
15 Part 3 of this series will bear this out.
16 Calvin L. Porter, “An Interpretation of Paul’s Lord’s Supper Texts: 1 Corinthians 10:14- 22 and 11:17-34,” Encounter 50 (1989): 32.
17 Theissen, “Social Setting,” 148, 151-52.
18 Ibid., 153.
19 Marshall, Last Supper, 109.
20 Porter, “Interpretation,” 34.
21 The “hungry” one in v 34 is not the same as the one in v 21. In v 21 it is the “have nots” who are hungry; in v 34 it is the “haves.” To view Paul’s words in v 34 as an instruction for the poor referenced in v 21 would not only seem callous (he has already chided the Corinthians for “shaming those who have nothing” in v 22)—as though this instruction would suddenly cause the “have nots” to be relieved of their hunger—but would also seem to be in tension with his instruction to “wait for one another” in v 33; wait for what? It is also noteworthy that Paul’s purpose for this instruction is to prevent the Corinthians from coming together “for judgment.” It was the eating practices of the wealthy (not the poor) that were resulting in judgment. Little would be served by instructing the poor to eat at home while the rich continued in their practice of the meal to the exclusion of the poor—the basis for “judgment” is not thereby eliminated. It is only by viewing the “hungry” in v 34 as the “haves” (who felt a need to eat all the food of the meal before the poor arrived) that these difficulties can be removed.
22 Theissen, “Social Setting,” 155.
23 Ringe, “Hospitality,” 61-62.
24 Murphy-O’Connor, “Eucharist and Community,” 37.
25 Winter, “Lord’s Supper,” 79.
26 Fee, Corinthians, 542.
27 As Theissen (155) says, “as long as it is assumed that it is a matter merely of different quantities of food for the rich and the poor Christians, Paul’s suggested solution must seem odd.”
28 A. J. B. Higgins, The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament (SBT 6; London: SCM, 1952) 71; and Gunther Bornkamm, “Lord’s Supper and Church in Paul,” Early Christian Experience (London: SCM, 1969), 126.
29 E. Käsemann, “The Pauline Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” in Essays on New Testament Themes, SBT 4 (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1964), 119-20.
30 Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology, American ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1981), 81.
31 See, e.g., 2 Thess 3:6-13.
32 Paul’s recital of the Lord’s Supper paradosis would then be seen as a corrective to show the intended order—bread, meal, cup. That Paul does not go into detail about the order is explained by the fact that he sees the order of the Lord’s Supper as secondary to the more important issue of disunity at the Supper. It may be inferred from Paul’s statement at the end of this section.
33 Bornkamm, “Lord’s Supper,” 149.
34 Murphy-O’Connor, “Eucharist and Community,” 373.
35 Ibid., 375.
36 Although Paul does not use the term here, he elsewhere uses “body” in reference to the local assembly (cf. 1 Cor 12:12- 27), and specifically in the context of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 10:17). See also P. T. O’Brien’s discussion in “The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity,” in The Church in the Bible and the World, (Exeter: Paternoster, 1987; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 105-114, passim.
37 Fee, Corinthians, 538 n. 32
38 So, Fee, Corinthians, 538-39; Bruce, 1 Corinthians, 109; Barrett, Corinthians, 261-62; Héring, Corinthians, 112-13; and L. Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 157-58.
39 Fee, Corinthinas, 537.
40 Barrett, Corinthians, 261.
41 Grosheide, Corinthians, 266
42 Barrett, Corinthians, 261.
44 Fee, Corinthians, 544.
46 Marshall, Last Supper, 153.
47 So, among others, E. Käsemann, “Pauline Doctrine,” 114; also A. T. Robertson and A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical on the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), 202.
48 Barrett, Corinthians, 229.
49 Bornkamm, “Lord’s Supper,” 125.
50 Robertson and Plummer, Corinthians, 212.
51 G. H. R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscription and Papyri Published in 1976 (North Ryde, Aust: Macquarie Univ, 1981), 5-9.
52 Fee, Corinthians, 446-47; Barrett, Corinthians, 231-32; and Morris, Corinthians, 146.
53 Wainwright, Eucharist, 115.
54 C. T. Craig, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: Introduction and Exegesis (New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1957), 114.
55 W. A. Sebothoma, “Koinonia in 1 Corinthians 10:16,” NeoT 24 (1990): 66; H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1975), 171; Barrett, Corinthians, 231.
56 Fee, Corinthians, 467.
57 Barrett, Corinthians, 233.
58 Ibid., 235.
59 Fee, Corinthians, 467.
60 Marshall, Last Supper, 15.
61 M. J. Harris, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” in In God’s Community, (Wheaton, IL: Shaw, 1978), 22.
62 Walter Kasper, “The Unity and Multiplicity of Aspects in the Eucharist,” Communio 12 (1985): 116.
63 Barrett, Corinthians, 232.
64 Calvin L. Porter, “An Interpretation of Paul’s Lord’s Supper Texts: 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and 11:17-34,” Encounter 50 (1989): 37.
65 Marshall, Last Supper, 119.
66 “He gives the reason why the breaking of bread is a means of sharing in the body of Christ…Sharing the one loaf makes us one body.” A. J. B. Higgins, The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, SBT (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1952), 70.
67 Ibid., 69.
68 Harris, “Baptism,” 25.
69 Wainwright, Eucharist, 117.
70 Marshall, Last Supper, 121. Of course, the article in both cases (v 16) could point to the kind of cup/bread that is being consumed without reference to the number of cup/bread. However, this use of the article seems to be precluded by Paul’s insistence in v 17 that there is “one” loaf of bread. This singularity, by extension, seems to apply naturally to the cup also.
71 Theissen, Social Setting, 165.
72 Harris, “Baptism,” 14.
73 G. V. Jourdan, “Koinōnia in 1 Cor 10:16,” Journal of Biblical Literature 67 (1948): 117.
74 If there are other causes of bodily oneness that can replace this cause, Paul does not mention them. Of course, this may simply be one avenue of many. On the other hand, while it is true that other factors contribute to the unity of the body (love, acceptance, tolerance, etc.) it may well be that the kind of oneness Paul mentions in this passage is of a different sort altogether. The “table of the Lord” (v 21), the koinōnia, the bread and cup, and the act of participation all work together to produce this oneness in a unique way. Perhaps, then, it is more accurate to speak in specific terms of eucharistic unity rather than bodily unity in general. If this is the case, it seems no other avenue could easily replace the avenue of the singularity of bread and cup.
75 Marshall, Last Supper, 156
76 By “assembly” is meant the normal and regular local gathering of believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
77 E.g., the broken crackers that serve as the “bread” in a majority of denominations today.
78 According to Eugene LaVerdiere, “The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church—IX: One Flesh, One Cup, One Altar,” Emmanuel 100 (1994): 519.
79 Ign. Eph. 20, in J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds., The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 142.
80 Ign. Phld. 4, ibid., 154.
81 Ign. Smyrn. 2-3, ibid., 156-57.
82 Apostolic Tradition 4:12, quoted in Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2d ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1963), 76. While Hippolytus does not specifically mention the “oneness” of the elements, his words here do reveal his belief that participation in the Eucharist produces unity in the body.
83 Quoted in Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 30.
84 Epist. 69, 5:2, in Raymond Johanny, “Cyprian of Carthage,” in The Eucharist of the Early Christians (New York, NY: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1978), 172.
85 Did. 9, in Lightfoot and Harmer, 232.
86 Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24:4, quoted in Elert, 28.