Barry Newman's Blog

October 10, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part XIII)

The Christian Corinthian Community Meals: 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 (continued)

What are we to make of Paul’s reference to the Last Passover Meal in chapter 11?  Contrary to what is commonly suggested, Paul nowhere makes an explicit argument such as, “see how the conduct of your meal is in contrast with your Christian ceremony, which in turn has its origin in the Last Passover Meal.”  What we find is Paul discussing their meal (vv. 17 – 22), referring to the Last Passover Meal (vv. 23 – 25) and the next moment, arguably referring to their meal again (vv. 26 – 34).  The movement from v. 25 to v. 26 is an abrupt one. Contrasting their meal, in some way, with the Last Passover Meal, the most significant of all meals, was going to be more striking than any comparison involving some Christian ceremony.  And he uses a very powerful literary strategy to do this for maximum effect.  Having, as it where, brought the Last Passover Meal alongside of their meal he applies it to their meal, as though it were their meal[1],[2] His unusually harsh language has been accompanied by this unusual literary device.  However his literary strategy is not without some type of precedent. The Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote of various meals to illustrate how conversations at the formal meals of his world should be conducted.[3] The Jewish Christian Paul quoted the words of Jesus at the Last Passover Meal to argue for how the Corinthian Christians should behave at their formal meals.


[1] C. K. Barrett came to a similar understanding in The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1968, p. 264 and Church, ministry and sacraments in the New Testament, Paternoster, Exeter, 1985, p. 67, 68, 70

[2] J.W. Woodhouse and G. May have a similar view.  For their understanding of the issue in general see, Woodhouse, J.W., “What is this meal?”, Briefing, 123, October, 1993, pp. 2 – 6, Woodhouse, J. W., “The Body of the Lord”, Briefing, 124, November, 1993, pp. 2 – 5; May, G., “The Lord’s Supper Ceremony or Relationship?  Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 1: Meals in the Gospels and Acts”, Reformed Theological Review 60 (3), December 2001, pp. 138 – 150 and May, G., “The Lord’s Supper: Ceremony or Relationship? Making a Meal of it in Corinth, Part 2: Meals at Corinth, Reformed Theological Review, 61 (1), April 2002, pp. 1 – 18

[3] See Smith, D.E., From Symposium to Eucharist – The Banquet in the Early Christian World, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, pp. 47 – 49


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