Barry Newman's Blog

April 27, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part VIII)

                     1 Corinthians 10: 16 and 17

I recognise that verses 16 and 17 of chapter 10 may contain some notions reflective of the Last Passover Meal but the following should be noted:

* The phrase, “the cup of blessing” is not known in the Greek or Mishnaic Hebrew (the language used in the Passover meals) literature before Paul’s letter.  It is found only once before the 4th century (in a letter by Irenaeus) and the full phrase, “the cup of blessing which we bless” is not found in any of the Greek literature until the same century – the 4th. Hence the phrase should not automatically be understood as coming from some traditional liturgy.

*Wine was a feature of formal (and informal) Graeco-Roman meals. It is sometimes referred to as though it were the only part of such meals! Small quantities were consumed during the first part of formal meals but more copious quantities during the second part in which the drinking of wine was often the main feature. This would perhaps explain why Paul refers to “the cup” before “the bread”.  If the Last Passover Meal is meant to form a fundamental background to this section of chapter 10, then one would expect the bread to be mentioned first.

*Bread was a common element of almost all meals and sometimes the only solid food at a meal (see a previous blog series).  The word “arton” (bread) might even have been used, from time to time, as a general way of referring to the solid food aspects of a meal. The bread used in a Passover Meal was special but it was not at all special to have bread in such a meal or any meal.

*Paul is concerned with the believers not contaminating their formal meals (or any meals) in any way with pagan attributes. That is, Paul undoubtedly writes against the background of what happened in the formal meals of unbelieving Corinthians.

In a previous blog series I concluded that a suitable expanded paraphrase of 10: 16 and 17 could be:

“(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.”

I suspect that the setting Paul has in mind in 10: 16 and 17 is that where the Corinthians came together to have a formal meal as believers. But it was a genuine meal, such as those had by many Greeks when they came together in a formal setting. The Corinthian believers came together to have a formal meal in part because that is what many Corinthians did. Of course the believers at their fellowship meals came from a great variety of backgrounds.  This was quite unlike the situation at most other Greek formal meals. The participants at these often came from the same club or from the same social or political stratum and in the 1st century, except were family was involved, they were mainly exclusively males.

Paul’s concern is that unlike the normal formal Greek meal, the meals attended by the believers when they came together, should have nothing idolatrous, about them. In 10: 16 and 17 he would seem to be arguing against such by stating what in principle the Corinthians do or should do when they come together to eat and drink.

His use of the 1st person plural is interesting. It is perhaps suggestive of his having taken part in fellowship meals with the Corinthian believers, at least in the past, or in similar fellowship meals with other believers generally.

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