Barry Newman's Blog

April 12, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part II)

By way of introduction (continued)

One of the reasons, probably the main reason and perhaps often the only reason why translators have traditionally inserted the definite article before “cup” and “table” is because they have thought that the reference is to something like a cup and table used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist.  In effect they read back into the text “celebrations” of one persuasion or another, with which we are familiar today and with which we have been familiar for many centuries.

Thiselton in his work, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine devotes a chapter to “The Hermeneutics of Word and Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist”[1].  To a large extent the aim of this chapter is to illustrate how what one understands by Biblical texts that appear to deal with or are considered to deal with these issues, is very largely influenced by one’s previous beliefs about these issues.  In a very “generous” manner, without attempting to show how one group is correct and another incorrect, Thiselton illustrates how people coming from various, in particular, Protestant or Lutheran traditions arrive at different understandings of certain texts on the basis of their beliefs about the sacraments. I believe his thesis certainly applies to various understandings of 1 Corinthians 10: 21 no matter what Christian tradition one hales from.

I guess I am no different in that only a few years ago I began to approach this text as though it had nothing to do with any sacrament. The task before any of us, however, is to assess whether or not there are good reasons for understanding a text this way or that.  Focussing on the phrase, “a table of the Lord”, the aim of this blog series is to present a case that suggests that this phrase has nothing to do with any practice associated with a sacrament, no matter what is understood by that sacrament or by what name it is called.

As stated above I have already argued in a previous blog series that “a cup of the Lord” is most likely a reference to “toasting the Lord”.  As believers, the Corinthians are no longer to toast any of the gods.  The only toast that is legitimate for them is the one to the Lord.  They certainly cannot do, must not attempt to do, both. That is, the reference is not necessarily to some special Christian custom associated with a sacrament such as the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, or Eucharist, even if in primitive form.  Once it is understood that “a cup of the Lord” is not necessarily so associated, the case is weakened that “a table of the Lord” must itself necessarily be a reference to something pertaining to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist, in whatever stage of development.

[1] Thiselton, A.C., The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp. 509 – 540


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