Barry Newman's Blog

October 1, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part IX)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion,Christian Community Meals — barrynewman @ 10:05 pm

Corinthian Christians and their participation in Meals: 1 Corinthians 8 -10

Well, what of the Corinthian Christians and the meals in which they participated?  In 1 Corinthians 8 – 10 Paul deals with the subject of eating meat that has knowingly been offered to idols. He considers a number of scenarios, including eating meat in the precincts of a pagan temple, a not uncommon occurrence for Corinthians, buying meat in the market place, and being a guest at a dinner where meat is served.  One of his concerns is how the behaviour and thinking of sensitive believers might be badly affected by the behaviour of those who were less sensitive to the issue. The idolatry associated with such meat was so strong that Paul in the end seems to argue that no matter what the circumstances, if a believer knows that the meat has previously been part of a pagan temple offering, for his own sake and for the sake of others, believers and unbelievers, he should abstain.  The Corinthian Christians should have nothing to do with and be seen to have nothing to do with idolatry.

Within this setting, 10: 16, 17 reads, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” It has commonly been thought that here Paul is referring to a Christian ceremony, or more explicitly, a rite, perhaps as part of a Christian meal, to support his argument about not eating meat that had been offered to idols.  However, it might simply be a reference to how these Christians should see their community meals, independently of any ceremony, as a further way of arguing the same thing.

Compared to other community meals in the Greek world, their meals were most unusual.  Perhaps few or no other groups that met together to share meals were so heterogeneous.   At these meals you would find Jews, gentiles, members of the upper classes, members of the lower classes, free people, slaves, women and men.  What brought them together?  What unified them?  It was the gospel, the focus of which was the Lord Jesus Christ who died for them.  He was the one who gave them this unity.  With this in mind, 10: 16, 17 could be understood as follows: “(When together we drink our wine with thanks it is not offered as a shared toast to the gods.) Is not our thanksgiving cup drunk with thanks by us who share in the Christ who shed his blood for us?  (When we share our meal it is not because we share an allegiance to the gods.)  Is not our breaking of bread, our sharing, a oneness in Christ?  Though many, we are one because we share in the one who is our bread, our sustenance.” The reference here is to having Christian community meals not Christians participating in a ceremony.  Their participation with each other was made possible because of their participation in the death of Christ.  Their world and the idolatrous world were worlds apart. Participation in the death of Christ is being caught up in that death with all its benefits, that death by which believers are rescued.

If in these verses, Paul is referring to a well established ceremony, it is odd that the precise Greek for the phrase, literally, “the cup of blessing which we bless,” is unknown in the writings of the Early Fathers until the 4th century.  Neither is its equivalent known in Mishnaic Hebrew.  This was a type of Hebrew that was probably in use and associated with occasions such as the Passover meal around the time of Jesus.  Furthermore, if it is claimed that the supposed ceremony would have been reflective of the Last Passover Meal, why does Paul mention the cup before the bread?  If however a community meal is in mind, it would be natural to mention the wine first, as wine commonly began such meals and was such a prominent part of them.  (The use by Paul of the first person plural, “we”, may indicate Paul’s common engagement in such meals himself.) Paul does not seem to be using technical language at all, language you might expect if he were referring to an established ceremony or rite.  Rather he seems to be using highly metaphorical language that is also perhaps reflective of language that Jesus used at the Last Passover Meal.


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